ARMS AND THE MAN King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Tue 14—Sat 18 Oct

1885. A small town in Bulgaria. Raina Petkoff, a well-to-do young woman rejoices in the bravery of her fiancé, Sergius, who is fighting against the Serbs. He is the very model of a military hero, having successfully launched a cavalry charge on the enemy's guns.

Seen through the eyes of a naive young woman, miles from the front line, this is what soldiering is all about. But when a fleeing Serb climbs into Raina’s room and begs her to feed him chocolate biscuits, he starts a chain of events that will turn her childish notions of heroism and romance upside down.

If you have ideals, prepare to have them assaulted by George Bernard Shaw's comedy, Arms and the Man. There were few things Shaw liked less than idealism, a fact that somehow seems at odds with his socialism and attempts at social engineering. (This was a man who believed that his phonetic alphabet might replace standard English.) ‘ldealism, which is only a flattering name for romance in politics, is as obnoxious to me as romance in ethics or religions,’ he declared.

Shaw could be a self-regarding figure. The preface to his 1898 Plays Pleasant, in which he expressed that suspicion of idealism, is a case in point. He imagines a national endowment for theatre based on the repertory houses of big cities (sounds familiar?), discreetly taunts actor-managers and extravagantly praises Ibsen. But his favourite subject, one always suspects, is GBS himself.

Shaw was 42 when he wrote Arms and the Man in 1894. As a philosopher, pamphleteer, economist and critic, he was established; as a playwright, however, he was just beginning. Perhaps this is what gives the early plays their freshness. Theatre was the perfect medium for him at this point in his career. The conventions of the well-made comedy allowed him to display his wit and also enabled him to bring his socialist views to the

widest possible audience.

Just as importantly, the stage tempered his natural


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An entertaining tale with memorable numbers

No place for idealism

dogmatism. The fact that drama requires a dramatist to

see the world from the perspectives of each of his characters, whatever their viewpoints, forced Shaw to get off his soapbox. Theatre saved him from slumping into the false security of his own convictions. Unexamined convictions are the subject of Arms and the Man, too - whether those of class, love or the sentimental patriotism played out in this play as comedy but repeated as tragedy during the Great War.

The Touring Partnership‘s production, directed by Timothy Sheader and starring Gwen Taylor and Duncan Preston, promises to go heavy on the comedy. But perhaps some of the play’s contemporary bite will sneak through yet. Setting the play in context, Shaw was dismissive of 'the political and religious idealism which had inspired Gladstone to call for the rescue of these

Balkan principalities from the despotism of the Turk’.

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Now who does that remind you of? (Adrian Turpin)

Re: treading the boards

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profess; on. among them such prominent oeoole as; l’hrlep Howard. Andy Arnold and Brian MrMaster. Will now. of nee :s;:;rty. he t;r|en<:ed. Now we know we're (jettrno the theatre, the luv/ref; Will have to clam up. or mk alrenalrng a suhsslarrtral source of fundrer lhrs; atrrroshhere of fear :5; regrettable, but no one (:ourd blame them. given the stakes. t rnrght he up to the rnedra to keen an eye out for the ereeornq agenda of high ticket prices; and the llffilflrlgj of orodrretrons; toward a narrow and snohmrr audience Gawd help of: all

Andy Arnold: sceptical about National

.9 'I', C' ' 27/: THE LIST 61