Arms and the Man | Sydney Theatre CompanyLeft – Charlie Cousins and Olivia Rose. Cover – Mitchell Butel and Andrea Demetriades. Photos – Heidrun Löhr

The audience gasped in pleasure as Michael Scott-Mitchells exquisite confection of a set spun slowly around on opening night to reveal a sumptuously costumed leading lady looking all the world like a certain popular Disney Ice Princess. I knew I was in safe hands right away and decided to “let it go”, sit back and enjoy Richard Cottrell’s wonderful staging of Arms and the Man at the Opera house. I wasn’t disappointed.

This is a great night out. George Bernard Shaw’s script is light yet acerbic, and in this staging is easily mistaken for Oscar Wilde. Cottrell moves his talented cast along at a pace and they rise superbly to the challenge.

The creative team have taken the theme of ‘the chocolate soldier’ quite literally and delivered a design that is intricate and quite delicious, like a giant wedding cake with brightly coloured and skillfully costumed characters atop.

But what makes the experience satisfying is that Cottrell allows Shaw’s dry satire on the nature of war and the reality of what really makes a man a soldier to remain solidly at the core of the humour, anchoring the comedy and visual artifice in truth.

The program notes quote Shaw as saying ”it is the business of the writer of comedy to wound the susceptibilities of his audience”. Now I’m not sure audiences have many susceptibilities left to wound in 2015, regarding the nature of war and the character of its fighters. But we certainly have a healthy fascination with the workings of relationships, and the cocktail of passion and deceit that keeps them alive. And here this production comes into its own, deftly spotlighting the intrigues, yet revealing them with love.

Much is said in commentary about this play relating to the nature of men and war, but clearly the satire does not neglect the women who await them. I expected Deborah Kennedy to nail it – and she absolutely did – but it was Andrea Demetriades' Raina and Olivia Roses' Louka that most engaged me with their careful balance of artifice and truth. It might be easy to judge these characters as shallow, but these two give them a warmth and honesty that one can’t help but find appealing. Lovely comic work.

Charlie Cousins Saranoff is whimsical, handsome and thoroughly entertaining, and William Zappas Petkov is suitably irascible and perplexed.

Mitchel Butel delivered a clever Bluntschli, nicely navigating the high comedy moments of near farce and the measured demeanor of the world weary soldier.

But here I have my only real production quibble – he somehow didn’t look right.

The bearded, assured face used in all the advertising collateral was re-moulded into a clean shaven blonde, and I’m not sure it helped his otherwise beautifully crafted and timed performance.  

But heck – that’s small potatoes in an evening that had me regularly smiling, often laughing, and frequently satisfied.

Sydney Theatre Company presents
Arms and the Man
by George Bernard Shaw

Director Richard Cottrell

Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 14 Sep - 31 Oct 2015
Tickets: From $58

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