A visit to the Shaw Festival

Gordon Jones
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Newfoundlander Nicole Underhay is ‘radiant and passionate’ as Major Barbara

Newfoundland native Nicole Underhay as Barbara Undershaft in this year’s Shaw Festival production of “Major Barbara.” — Photo by David Cooper/The Shaw Festival

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The final act takes place in the Undershaft arms factory (complete with dauntingly realistic canon), where the splendidly amoral Andrew Undershaft, played with great authority by Campbell, struts and declaims in his own space.

Like some inverted Christian apologist and sermonizer, Underhill passionately denounces the crime of poverty and the primacy of hate over love. His animadversions are undercut, though, by the agreement of his feather-headed son, by the aloof contempt of his wife, and by Barbara’s embracing a secularist affirmation of hope, joy and humanity, together with Adolphus Cusins (Graeme Somerville), a professor of  Greek, who has courted Barbara and has unexpectedly been appointed by Undershaft as his heir.

The play concludes with Barbara and Cusins embracing a Utopian (if historically futile) vision of a peaceful future in which they will use their power and wealth to “make war on war.”   

 It must be allowed that “Major Barbara” is a complex and talkative play. You won’t find many plays whose three-hour traffic of the stage generates as much verbal controversy and provocation.

But it continued to hold the audience in the Royal George Theatre, thanks to an experienced and well-cast acting ensemble and to intelligent and seamless direction by Festival Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell.

In tomorrow’s Telegram, I will provide an account of the two other plays I saw at the Festival, the Broadway musical, “Guys and Dolls,” and Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan.”

Organizations: Festival Theatre, Salvation Army, Royal George Theatre

Geographic location: Toronto, Newfoundland, Geneva England London Broadway

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