Misalliance review at Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘an entertaining revival’
The Orange Tree Theatre isn’t doing an explicitly Christmas show this year, but there’s definitely something of the panto about Misalliance, which unfolds at the house of the self-made John Tarleton, big in the underwear business.
It’s not that this 1910 curio by George Bernard Shaw doesn’t deal with weighty themes. Shaw uses the nakedly cynical engagement of Tarleton’s daughter, Hypatia, to aristocrat Bentley ‘Bunny’ Summerhays to attack gender inequality and the moral vacuum of the wealthy.
What gives this show its panto feel is its winkingly farcical tone. Shaw spends just as much time sending up theatrical conventions as society. He throws in characters and escalates situations – a plane containing a female acrobat crashes into the garden – until everything explodes into chaos after the interval.
Tom Hanson is extremely funny as puffed-up mansplainer Tarleton Jr, Marli Siu catches both Hypatia’s frustrations with her lot in life and her cruelty. As Lina Szczepanowska, the fiercely independent acrobat who sees contemptuously through every man in the house, Lara Rossi is more than a leery period novelty.
An off note is the high camp of Rhys Isaac-Jones’ performance as Bunny. It’s just too arch for the character’s cosseted, infantilised awfulness.
This sprawl of a play is a smugly clever one at times, teetering between funny and cringeworthy. Its humour is often incredibly self-regarding.
But Paul Miller’s high-energy production is exhilarating. And in Pip Donaghy’s windbag Tarleton and Simon Shepherd’s slimy Lord Summerhays is a caricaturist’s portrait of powerful men abusing their position.