Over the last few years, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond has put itself back on the map for a younger generation of theatregoer, with an eclectic and unpredictable programme of events that sees challenging new work aired as frequently as lost classics, and it’s in the vein of the latter that Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance is revived at the venue, to great success.
Taking place over the course of an afternoon in the conservatory of a large country house, (with a sterling set design from Laura Hopkins – make sure you look up!) Misalliance charts the preoccupations of the wealthier set, in particular, their preoccupation with bedding each other. And when two outsiders, the cartoonishly accomplished Lina Szczepanowska (Lara Rossi), and a young socialist with a bone to pick (Jordan Mifsúd) crash land into their lives (one literally), the ridiculousness of their desires is brought into sharp relief.
Before this happens, we’re introduced to the Tartleton family. Presided over by self-made man John (Pip Donaghy), the focal point of the family is his daughter Hypatia (Marli Siu), who is to be wed to the effetely aristocratic Bentley (Rhys Isaac-Jones in scene-stealing form), despite being an obvious romantic mismatch. Hypatia is a strong-willed Shavian heroine, unafraid to shape the world around her to her liking and endlessly amused by the cartwheels the men around her turn. For there are hormones ricocheting all over the place: over the course of the play, a whopping eight marriage proposals are mooted.
The play is razor-sharp in its satire, and unafraid to contend with weightier themes like socialism and class disparity, but surprised me most in how raucously funny it is at almost every turn. Under Paul Miller’s expert direction, the cast deliver Shaw’s dialogue with an almost contemporary rhythm (Tom Hanson & Luke Thallon both excel at this particular) and land jokes that feel like they could have been written last week.
Clocking in at 2h45, it’s definitely one of Shaw’s longer works, and feels perhaps a touch overextended, especially in the first act, but with everything coming together in the second act to be uproariously hilarious. Even in the scenes that feel more weighted down, there is always Shaw’s glorious dialogue, delivered with relish. Highly recommended.