Arms and the Man

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

“A serious play, a play to cry over if you could only have helped laughing,” so George Bernard Shaw himself commented on this anti-romantic comedy.

Fortunately in Tim Seely's production it is a the funny side that strikes you first. But it's what seems to be the contradiction between the conventional, easy-going comedy and the seriousness of its deeper theme that has kept Arms and the Man topical and vital over a good century-and-a-half.

Anne White's pretty sets with mountain backgrounds and Michael Bloom's folk costumes and gorgeous military uniforms evoke the Balkans at the time of some incomprehensible war.

This is a time for daring feats of arms, of sentimental brief encounters and as the only veteran points out, of too much danger unless you know how to look after No 1.

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Down to earth and cynical about conspicuous gallantry, Captain Bluntschli, played by Evan Ryder with a nice blend of confidence and vulnerability, is a Swiss soldier of fortune. Hotel keeping in his home land may be less exciting than leading a charge on the enemy, but he knows it offers better chances of a long life.

His attitudes are contrasted with the bluster of Sergius (James Harris). The hero of the hour with all the courage of inexperience, he soon loses his halo and, of course, his girl.

Fair haired Camilla Woolsey-Brown is a pretty Raina. She knows how to strike an attitude and has been doing her very best to keep the home fires burning. It is not long, however before reality puts a dampener on her childish idealism.

Louka, the servant girl shown by Kiara Hawker to have the right touch of earthiness, demonstrates how to take your chances.

The message: Don't make war, eat chocolate creams.

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