Major Barbara

CHRISTOPHER SMITH St Peter's Church Hall, Park Lane


> St Peter's Church Hall, Park Lane

Major Barbara explores the clash between the ideals of the Salvation Army and the harsh reality of the arms trade.

The mixture is explosive.

Bernard Shaw's genius is to turn it into comedy that is intelligent, human and highly entertaining, yet keeps its cutting edge though the play is 100 years old.

The opening scenes almost seem to come from Oscar Wilde. Liz Latimer queens it as Lady Undershaft – mind your Ps and Qs in her drawing room, don't use slang, sit straight on your chair.

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Trouble comes from two directions.

Her daughter, Barbara, has joined the Salvationists and risen to the rank of major. Laura Landamore shows promotion has been well earned. She has real inner strength. The trouble is that she has inherited it from her father, played with authority by David Ivins, who has a cause too: making profits out of selling weapons.

This is the start of a great debate.

Though serious issues are at stake, they are discussed with wit, irony, and relish for paradox and well-turned epigrams.

To make things better, Shaw brings in a professor of Greek who has fallen for Barbara and beats the drum — literally — for her religious convictions. Christopher Whitley plays the role with a delightful air of slightly puzzled detachment.

David Hare's direction is clear and fluent, and the Great Hall Players' arena-productions style works very well with minimal props and virtually no scenery.

At the end of what is quite a long play, some of the speeches go rather too fast. You can always linger a little longer to hear what clever GBS has to say.

Christopher Smith

t Further performances until Saturday March 12. Use our what's on listings search for details.

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