Rare and funny play gets Norwich performance

You Can Never Tell, one of Bernard Shaw's funniest plays, but rarely performed, is the latest production at the Sewell Barn Theatre. SIMON PARKIN reports.

One of Bernard Shaw's 'Plays Pleasant', You Never Can Tell is the latest production at the Sewell Barn Theatre, the story of a smart and witty middle class family at the turn of the 20th century, on holiday on the south coast.

Final rehearsals are currently under way for the play, being directed by David Hare, which centres Mrs Clandon and her three children, Dolly, Phillip and Gloria, who have just returned to England after an 18 year stay in Madeira.

Mrs Clandon is one of Shaw's independent women, who has walked out on her marriage to a man she describes as a brute and taken her three children with her.

But a visit to the dentist, and the long arm of dramatic coincidence, ensures that the family is brought together again at the Marine Hotel.

Under the benign eye of a wise old waiter and his QC of a son, rancour gradually gives way to reconciliation, and love blossoms to fine comic effect between the suave dentist and Mrs Clandon's elder, and initially fiercely feminist daughter.

'My favourite thing about the play 'is the meticulous writing of Bernard Shaw, the development of the storyline and the colourful nature of the characterisation,' said David.

Most Read

In this Swell Barn production, Gillian Tichborne plays Mrs Clandon, with Joy Cruickshank as Dolly, Jonathan Massey as Phillip and Tracie Harris as Gloria.

'The characters are coming across very strongly,' says David. 'It's a first rate cast and they have worked so hard to meet the challenges of the play. In fact it really is one of the best casts I have worked with for a long time. We hope our audiences agree and come along in their numbers to enjoy a rare opportunity to see an unjustly neglected masterpiece.'

One of Shaw's sunniest and funniest plays, You Never Can Tell was completed in 1896 and was written in the wake of Oscar Wilde's great success with The Importance of Being Earnest.

Shaw was clearly strongly influenced by it. There are explicit echoes of Wilde's masterpiece, as well as a similar delicious absurdity and delight in the epigrammatic.

But the piece, all set in a seaside resort, and with a lovely feeling of sunshine and fresh air about it, also echoes Shakespearean comedy in its account of a bitterly divided family, and the reunion of the children with their long-lost father.

With Shaw having fallen slightly out of favour in recent years, the play is seldom performed today. This is a golden opportunity to see it.

'Having watched a recent rehearsal, I can confirm this will be a very light, energetic production of the play, supported by an incredible back-stage team headed by Mike Carson,' said Michelle Montague, joint artistic director of the Sewell Barn. 'The set, costume and lighting design are very exciting and will complement David's production and his actors beautifully.'

The play is the second last in the Sewell Barn's 2011-12 season. The last, Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, is currently in rehearsal and will be performed at the theatre in July.

The theatre, based in the grounds of Sewell Park College (formerly Blyth-Jex school) on Constitution Hill, recently announced its 2012-3 season of plays, including Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, an adaptation of E M Forster's Maurice and Silly Cow by Ben Elton.

The season will be the second under artistic directors Michelle and Robert Little.

Michelle said: 'Of course our first season isn't over yet, but we've already learned some valuable lessons that have helped inform the direction of our new season. 'The one thing that hasn't changed is our passion to move the theatre forward. Robert and I are really excited that our initial vision is flourishing – combining the experience of established company members with the enthusiasm of young actors.'

Robert continued: 'We're very excited about all the productions. 'The Lieutenant of Inishmore, for instance, is a sort of Tarantino-meets-Monty Python grotesque comedy.'

The piece, written by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh, is set in Ireland during the troubles and will be directed by Michelle.

She added: 'It's a brilliant, bloody satire on terrorism.

'It's a beautifully crafted script and we hope it'll really challenge as well entertain.'

? You Can Never Tell, Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich, until June 23, �8 (�6 cons), 01603 697248, www.sewellbarn.org