Anything can happen on a cruise ship. In this case an upper class, educated travel writer who would just like to work in solitude meets a chatty phone operator with a mission to marry him. Despite his crabby reluctance, he is gradually drawn into conversation with her although it is not an experience he relishes.
In scene II they meet again by accident in her workplace, a village shop on the Wiltshire Downs. The intellectual travel writer is persuaded to buy the shop and become her employer. Here he learns 'more in three months than he did in three years at Oxford', but the two continue to bicker and irritate each other. Then, for no apparent reason, these mismatched characters decide to get married. Why? One of the following morals could provide an explanation: 1. Class distinctions need to be broken down, so these two characters should set a good example to us all and get married. 2. Sexual attraction can occur without any evidence between two extremely unlikely people. 3. Outrageous compromise is fundamentally important to doomed relationships. 4. Love is just a crazy old thing, and don't forget, it's also important to have a social conscience.
What is the answer to this riddle? Unfortunately the production of the play does not enlighten us, the major problem being that it lacks an angle. Is it (as Shaw probably intended) a realist play about academic, class and economic barriers to change? Or is it (as advertised) a 'witty comedy of modern love'? It seems to waver uncomfortably between the two.
The star attraction of the play is Shaw's text, which is often delivered in a curiously neutral manner. Some statements hover in the air, disembodied from the speaker, awaiting contemplation: 'in this life you have to take chances', we should 'take a more cheerful view of life', 'you must let yourself think about everything '
The acting provides an adequate voice for the text. Graham Kerr as the travel agent (referred to by Shaw only as A) is appropriately stolid in his intellectual reserve and good breeding. He delivers some humorous lines well: 'You're not what I should call an attractive woman'. Acting reserved comes naturally, but even the suggestion of passion is missing, which may be why the two characters seem to lack the essential chemistry to make this story convincing.
This is a simple, low budget production with two actors and a minimalist set. It is unpretentious, uncluttered and brief and could very well be more interesting than what you would otherwise be doing at home. But overall it is too safe to make any real impact. As one of the characters remarks: 'a good laugh is worth a hundred pounds'. Tickets to this production cost £4.50, so if you do the calculations before you go, you won't be disappointed.
Hope Earl, 30.07.02