Monday, August 06, 2018

“O’FLAHERTY V.C.” delights and instructs at The Shaw

“Nations are like bees; they cannot kill except at the cost of their own lives.”

Satirist and playwright George Bernard Shaw is noted for skewing the English, their class governmental and educational systems, their treatment of the Irish and women, as well as religion and any form of government other than socialism.  His “O’Flaherty V.C.” is a classic one-act example of Shaw at his best. 

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest of the British military award system.  It was first presented by Queen Victoria during the Crimean War.  In its 162-year history it has on been granted only 1,358 times. 

“O’Flaherty V.C.” the Shavian comic/satire, centers on a young World War I Irish soldier, Dennis O’Flaherty, who, while serving in the British army, exhibited such bravery that he was awarded the VC.   Under the banner “Boys! Come along.  You’re wanted,” he has been returned to his Irish village to recruit for the armed services.  (It should be known that, at the time, Irish republicans were opposed to a war to defend the British Empire.)

The return home is not only an issue of politics, but, O’Flaherty had not told his mother that he would be fighting on the British side in the war, not against it.   He also admits, in a conversation with General Sir Pearce Madigan, a local landowner, he had no idea why the war was being fought.  He just joined up to get away from home.

When his mother appears, all hell breaks loose when she discovers he's been fighting for the British.  He also reveals that he is sick of life in provincial Ireland and since he's experienced France, he never wants to come back and hopes he can get a French wife.

An Irish brough-ha-ha breaks out between mother and girlfriend, Teresa, when she appears and reveals that Dennis gave her a valuable gold watch.

Dennis says he can't wait to get back to the peace and quiet of the trenches. General Madigan sympathizes, commenting, "Do you think that we should have got an army without conscription if domestic life had been as happy as people say it is?"

In the play’s preface, Shaw argues that “most soldiers do not enlist for patriotic reasons, but through a desire for adventure, or to get away from a restricted life.  This is especially true of the Irish, since an Irishman's hopes and opportunities depend on getting out of Ireland.”

The acting is top-notch.  Ben Sanders creates reality as O’Flaherty.  Tara Rosling delights as the opinionated, controlling Irish mother. Patrick McManus is properly stuffy and military-like as General Madigan, and Gabriella Sundar Singh gives a nice imitation of a put-upon Irish lass.

Director Kimberley Rampersad keeps the action moving swiftly along!

Capsule judgment:  As is often the case at The Shaw, the lunch time play is one of the Festival’s highlights. ”O’Flaherty V.C.” is no exception!  It is a delightful and revealing lesson on his writing and the Shavian attitudes and ability to make his points with wit and satire!  Hurrah!