A protagonist who screws pensioners for personal convenience, who fights every legal claim with a counter-claim for ten times the amount – and who still embraces socialism... but Robert Maxwell had barely hit puberty when this was written. As art surpasses life, Shaw's protagonist is female; as it's more reductive, the prospect of a happy marriage to a selfless Egyptian doctor can claim to erase all prior atrocities. Shaw requires more thought than modern audiences are accustomed to giving; he's not best served by a stultifying two-and-a-half hour performance with the pace of an animated HeatElectric commercial.
In misplaced compensation for this, there's a breadth of characterisation which skims over his eddying undercurrents: the millionairess and the doctor perform an overt mating dance from the first, with no intrigue, no chemistry – and none of the social sophistication which lets her, in the final scene, contemplate her current husband's mistress with relative equanimity. Robin Brockman's production has the makings of a useful revival, but it needs to shift up two gears.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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