BWW Review: GETTING MARRIED at SHAW FESTIVAL
To say that George Bernard Shaw's social commentaries were erudite would be an understatement. His keen eye and astute observations always allow the reader or viewer to take pause and contemplate life in a different light. The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the Lake is producing one of his lesser works, GETTING MARRIED. Originally written for the stage in 1908, many of it's concepts remain unchanged regarding the institution of marriage and it's sanctity, but Shaw ingeniously takes us for a roller coaster of a ride in telling this story.
Stage Director Tanja Jacobs has moved the action to 1950 without truly ruining any of the punch that the story packs. It is the eve of Cecil and Edith's wedding, Edith being the last of the children to marry. The family assembles slowly as we learn of their numerous relationships that have turned sour, or never have been fully realized. The predictable familial spats occur as the details of the ensuing wedding materialize. When it is announced that the young bride Edith has gotten cold feet and wants to call the wedding off, a cacophony of word play rumbles as everyone provides their own ideas of marriage and morality. Katharine Gauthier as Edith is forthright in her beliefs demonstrating Shaw's empowerment of the younger females of the cast. The jilted fiance Cecil is played by the exasperated Cameron Grant. The Divorce Laws of the period make it near impossible for a woman to divorce her husband unless there is proof of adultery plus physical abuse, incest, or, of all things, bestiality. Edith learns of such laws and will only consider marriage after the drawing up what would today be considered a "prenuptial agreement."
The large cast pays a great service to Shaw's extremely wordy dialogue. When everyone is finally assembled the quick fire dialogue conversations among the family can be dizzying, and it is a credit to both director and cast for the excellent timing of the deliveries- this is ensemble acting at it's finest. Damien Atkins is William Collins, the green grocer who has seen the home's mistress, Mrs. Bridgenorth (played perfectly by Chick Reid) through all of the other children's wedding. Though appearing young for the role, Atkins is always in control, even when nearly dropping a multi-tiered wedding cake. Martin Happer is full of military bluster becoming of his character General "Buster" Bridgenorth. Buster pines for an unwilling woman with the unlikely, yet descriptive name of Lesbia Grantham (played by Claire Jullien). He is on his tenth marriage proposal to Lesbia who wants children but does not want a husband- she quips " If I am to be a mother, I really cannot have a man bothering me to be a wife at the same time." Since being a single mother is unheard of, she certainly won't marry just for the sake of children.
Enter Leo Bridgeworth (played by Monice Peter), who had arranged a fake story to divorce her husband Reginald (played by the affable Steven Sutcliffe). In concocting a story of abuse and engagement of a prostitute, the two can legally part so Leo could marry another man, St John Hotchkiss (Ben Sanders). Yes, the twists and turns abound.
Graeme Somerville is the Bishop and master of the house, Alfred Bridgenorth. He engages Rev. Oliver Cromwell Soames (played by the very funny Andrew Lawrie) to compose the marriage contract, but with a room jam packed with a loud mouthed family there is little progress as every possible clause is thrown into proposed document.
Designer Shanna Lea Doyle has fashioned the ladies in a bright color palate that lights up the stage. The single setting of the home's kitchen seemed an unlikely area for a well to do family to gather for the entirety of the play, but it is Shaw's concept. Moving tables and a spaciouse entrance provide multiple playing areas. While the large cast tackles the material with elan, there are times when it appeared the plot could have been streamlined as the first act can be mentally exhausting. The second act provides a few marital twists with coupling and uncoupling, thanks to the entrance of Mrs. George Collins, played with flair by Marla McLean. In the end, the myriad of opinions regarding marriage and divorce seem endless, with everyone having their say. So Shaw has succeeded in unraveling the unwritten rules of matrimony that plague every couple that engages in it's folly.
GETTING MARRIED plays the the Royal George Theatre of the Shaw Festival through October 13,2019. Contact shawfest.com for more information.