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Andrea Demetriades, Deborah Kennedy and Olivia Rose. Images: Heidrun Lohr

THEATRE: 24 SEPTEMBER 2015

By TONI CARROLL

Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw | Directed by Richard Cottrell

Sydney Theatre Company | Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House | Until 31 October

Not many stars were visible in the sky as The Guest and I tucked into delicious salmon and crab at the Oyster Bar at Sydney Cove. We got a bit soggy as the rain came down, barely shielded by the sprawl of café umbrellas above us, but the seafood was worth it.

We had to wait until we’d scurried up to the shelter of the Opera House Drama Theatre to see the stars.

Bryan Brown, Rachel Ward, Paul Capsis, Andrew Upton … even Nick Greiner and an Umbilical Brother milled in the foyer. It looked like an industry turn-out for opening night of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man. And it seemed as though they’d all arrived ready and willing to embrace this tightly produced pantomime-like comedy.

The guffaws began as soon as the curtains opened on the extravagant set, with Raina Petkoff (Andrea Demetriades) standing in costumed glory on a faux balcony. The Guest and I shared a bewildered glance, not sure what we’d missed. We couldn’t work out what was so funny, unless it was simply supportive laughter for the great production the insider audience expected to unfold.

This non-military military melodrama opens with the ‘chocolate soldier’ Captain Bluntschli (Mitchell Butel) accidentally breaking into Raina’s bedroom while fleeing a patrol. During this rollicking opening scene, full of witty dialogue, pratfalls and don’t-let-on-I’m-behind-the-curtain mugging, we find out that Raina’s fiancé, Major Sergius Saranoff (Charlie Cousins), isn’t the hero Raina and her mother (Deborah Kennedy) believe he is.

And so begins a very Shaw-ian exploration into class and society, with questions about who the real heroes are. This exploration is aided by the two servants, Nicola (Brandon Burke) and Louka (Olivia Rose), and Raina’s father, Major Paul Petkoff (William Zappa), who has just returned from battle.

Led flawlessly by Richard Cottrell, this fabulously professional cast is tight and energetic, and shares impeccable timing. Every comic note of Shaw’s script is pitch-perfect. The production is sumptuously costumed by Julie Lynch, and Michael Scott-Mitchell has designed a set that provides a perfect playground in which the actors can shine.

Highly recommended for those who want a light-hearted night out, as well as theatre-goers who like to dig a bit deeper below the froth and colour.

Deborah Kennedy

William Zappa

Charlie Cousins and Mitchell Butel.