You Never Can Tell, Abbey Theatre review: 'George Bernard Shaw's difficult plays require perfect productions'
George Bernard Shaw’s comedy was written after he saw and negatively reviewed Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest on the London stage in 1895. We now have an intriguing opportunity to compare the styles of the two rivals, as this Abbey production opens a week after the Wilde play at the Gate.
Mrs Clandon, a commanding and subtle Eleanor Methven, has lone-parented her three spirited children having left their father eighteen years earlier. The family returns from Madeira to England and the children accidentally invite their unknown father for lunch.
At the heart of the play is the breakdown of the parents’ misguided marriage. Unfortunately, Eamon Morrissey is miscast as the father. His gifts as an actor are primarily comic and he never reaches the necessary depths. Niall Buggy’s waiter is overblown. The waiter should steal the show with a bit more stealth. It is tempting to wonder what Morrissey might have made of the part.
One of the challenges of the play is the talky relationship between the older daughter Gloria, a would-be protofeminist, and her dentist suitor Valentine. Paul Reid finds a good path through this dense material with a charming nonchalance. Caoimhe O’Malley is less successful as she resorts to a shouty hysteria.
The seaside hotel set by Liam Doona is superb with a brilliant water feature. Glimmering lighting effects by Ben Ormerod are a pleasure. Joan O’Clery’s costumes are terrific and playful. The Harlequin and Columbine outfits are a joy, as are their wearers, James Murphy and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, who play the younger family members with panache.
What Shaw does have to offer over Wilde is a seriousness of intent. The debating chamber quality of his work underlines his desire to enter the argument, rather than simply to poke at it for laughs. But more than any other writer in the repertoire, his difficult plays require perfect productions.