For the last nine months plays by Shaw and his contemporaries have dominated the Orange Tree programme, and these four short offerings bring the season to an entertaining end as well as providing a calling card for two promising young directors.
Helen Leblique clearly enjoys bringing a heightened sense of spontaneity and spark to domestic conversation pieces. Her opener is the familiar Barrie anecdote about a pompous business man, played by Stuart Fox, whose self-satisfaction takes a knock when his ex-wife turns up as a secretarial assistant, coolly portrayed by Daisy Ashford, infecting his complacent second wife (Katie McGuinness) with dangerous new ideas.
Leblique’s large-cast staging of Pinero’s Playgoers shows what happens when a philanthropic couple decide to award their servants with a trip to the theatre. Alas the gesture ends in tears, recrimination and a mass walk-out, cleverly orchestrated, again with an unsettling performance by the versatile Miss Ashford, and an eye-catching cameo by Amy Neilson Smith as an uptight, puritanical maidservant.
Henry Bell takes greater risks with his atmospheric staging of Synge’s mocking but lyrical Tinker’s Wedding, beautifully lit by Leanne Simmonds, a slice of Irish rural life dominated by Kate Lock’s colourable vagrant mother-figure, and a lovely turn by Amy McAllister as her potential daughter-in-law, with all the fire and spirit of Synge’s Pegeen Mike.
Under Bell’s assured direction the evening ends with a ten-minute trifle, Shaw’s very last work, a puppet play written for the Malvern Festival a year before his death. But this version of Shakes vs Shav is a history-making, premiere live performance of a punch-up between Dudley Hinton’s zippy Shakespeare and GBS in the robust form of John Paul Connolly, a staging with split-second sound effects that no Shaw completist dare miss.