"Suffragettes Stimulate Shaw's Scathing Satire"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 08/03/17

International Women's Day could not be a more appropriate date to review George Bernard Shaw's Press Cuttings now revived at Pentameter Theatre in Hampstead. For the background to this play is the suffragette movement, very current at the time of first presentation in 1909, although the suffragettes themselves do not physically appear in the play which takes place in the office of General Mitchener, a thinly disguised portrayal of the real life Lord Kitchener, whilst the chants of the protestors are heard offstage.

The play, which is one of Shaw's less well-known works , is Shaw at his satirical best, for while himself espousing the suffragettes' cause, he uses the play to lambast then current views on the role of women, and comment acerbically on the military and democracy . It is not his most subtle or well drafted play but for a piece which was written over 100 years ago much of the material resonated. I was particularly struck by Kitchener's prophetic observations for what might happen if democracy was taken to its logical extent where the "mob" actually decided what would happen!

Staging a rather dated work in which the characters are caricatures raises various directorial challenges and I was not sure that the balance in this production worked. Clive Greenwood as General Mitchener gave an assured forceful performance, whereas Seamus Newham's portrayal as Prime Minister " Balsquith " was uncomfortable. It is possible that the director was trying to portray him as a hesitant and unsure man but he came across as an actor unsure in his role. It was particularly off putting that he directed most of his lines to the floor. In contrast Joe Sargent as the Orderly directed many of his lines direct out to the audience . There was also far too much unnecessary movement with the characters wandering quite inexplicably around the set.

The play really took off with the entrance of Mrs Banger (Alexis Leighton) and Lady Corinthia Fanshaw (Bethany Blake) as representatives of the anti-suffragette movement. Both characters were played strongly and assuredly and the resultant dialogue about the role of men and women in society was the comedic highlight.

The set was nicely and sparsely depicted as a spacious room in the War Office although it was a shame that the actors' entrances were all through a rather uncomfortably positioned door on the extreme left of the acting area. There may be particular constraints in Parameter's acting area which made this necessary , but a more confined playing area with better entrances would have improved the presentation and focus.

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