Arms and the Man

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Norwich Theatre Royal

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Just short of 100 years old, Arms and the Man comes across crisp and fresh in the premiere of Timothy Sheader's new production.

A light romantic comedy with an edge of anti-romanticism, the play combines Shaw's skill in dialogue and his love of paradox with a plot that makes fun of itself, and a cast of characters whose adventures and antics make splendid entertainment.

With a backdrop of snowy summits, designer Robert Jones sets the scene in Bulgaria, a country ravished by battle. Triumph or disaster? Refuge or exposure? A girl in her nightie and a soldier in his torn uniform put the question into human form. Is it to be love or war, protection or betrayal?

Serious issues, then, but we soon realise we need not take them to heart, not when Barnaby Kay's worldly wise Bluntschli sees the funny side of everything, not when wide-eyed Rachel Ferjani's Raina makes the best of her opportunities for an emotional complication.

As her father, Duncan Preston, ably partnered by Gwen Taylor as his wife, represents the older generation with a splendid show of never quite following what it is really all about. Sam Callis strikes a fine figure in golden epaulettes and shiny boots. Not a lot under his fur hat, though.

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