After many years in the wilderness, George ‘Bernard’ Shaw is once again in vogue, complete with elbow patches and hipster beard. His most popular play is currently running at the Questors – Pygmalion. You know, the one named after the ancient Grecian sculptor we all pretend we learned about in grammar school, and who anyway has only the most tangential connection to the story on offer.
This fact did not go down well with the ‘alternatively paid’ interns, some of who are proud Greeks delighted at the prospect that even in these Eurosceptic times, we English can still host a drama about one of their lesser myths. “Not a single lump of marble anywhere on stage” one sobbed the next day into his overpriced coffee. “And what happened to all the songs ?” muttered another. When asked to describe what they had seen, one summed it up as “a moral tale of a proud young working woman reduced to sponging off others, brought about by the erosion of her characterful accent and her homogenisation into a bland inoffensive RP.”
Plenty of characterful voices at this week’s workshop. Michael Harris played out a gritty coming-of-age drama of an emasculated boy getting his Man back, while Daphne Gloag choreographed a ballet on the event horizon in a show that will run forever. Peter Francis opened his curtain on the library of his youth, and had us rolling in the aisles between bookshelves, while Pat Francis’ musical had a showstopping weepy whose cunningly cynical words are no match for the subversive power of a good composer. Finally, in true ’Enry ’Iggins style, Martin Choules has been teaching us the correct grammar for the counter-factual mood, just to have his selfless efforts moodily shoved up his subjunctive.
Bernie Shaw was a frequent attendee in Edwardian times – and just like his famous professor, he had an annoying habit of pointing out the errors in the speech of the other members, past and present. In between lamenting the double negatives employed by Jane Austen, the relentless passive voice of Artie Doyle and Bill Shakespeare’s multiple sins of ending sentences with a preposition, he might decry the modern lackadaisical lyricism of the latest literary leprechauns. One evening, for instance, he upbraided John Masefield to his face for completely omitting the verb in his opening line “I must down to the sea again”, and Thomas Hardy for his excessive use of dialect in The Ruined Maid. Indeed, when he took issue with Edith Nesbit for her ‘slovenly’-titled Five Children & It, she was so taken aback that all she good plead in defence was “lawks, guv’nah, I’m a good girl, I am !”
But we’ll leave the last word to ‘Hilarious’ Belloc in his typical style of pithy, yet totally off the point:
Bernard Shaw, as sharp as a razor,
Quite at home in a tie and blazer.
But his beard is less Belgravian –
He may be Shaw, but never Shavian.