Behind the beach balls, bright colours and outlandish costumes, Shaw charismatically winks at the audience. His play constantly flirts with us and proves we are still enchanted by the sparkle and enticed by the wit of this 1897 comedy of manners -- no teeth-pulling required.
Directed by Jim Mezon, You Never Can Tell is both ridiculous and ridiculously charming. Everything about this production is ostentatious – including the simultaneous passion and anguish experienced by Valentine (Gray Powell) and Gloria (Julia Course) as they not-so-accidentally fall in love with each other.
For those unfamiliar with this Shavian classic, You Never Can Tell is a tongue-in-cheek take on feminism and most importantly, men’s reaction to feminism. It satirizes English values, marriage and the class system of its time.
The play follows Mrs. Lanfrey Clandon (Tara Rosling), her eldest daughter Gloria and her rambunctious twins, Philip (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) and Dolly (Jennifer Dzialoszynski). The Clandon family returns to England from Portugal after fleeing an abusive husband and father years prior, and they don’t exactly fit in, especially considering none of the children actually know who their father is – a huge deal in England.
Mrs. Clandon is a progressive writer of 20th century values and Gloria is her young protégé, who has absorbed every tip possible on how to be a modern woman.
All of the chaos begins in the office of five-schilling dentist Valentine. Valentine becomes enamored by Gloria, despite the front she puts up. Dolly and Philip disagreeably talk everyone’s ear off. And soon, the entire family ends up going to lunch with Valentine and his landlord – a man who just so happens to perfectly match the description of the children’s long-lost father.
Domestic disputes erupt immediately and what initially seems like a disaster lunch soon turns into a chance for reconciliation – but not before a lot of fighting, yelling, buffoonery and, of course, a bizarre, genie-like lawyer who knows all.
Dzialoszynski and Jackman-Torkoff thoroughly amp up the volume and the obnoxious nature of their characters and though I never find their loud banter to be adorable, I never get tired of hearing them yap. Their flashy and loud-mouthed performances bring a certain brightness to the scenes that a more traditional rendition could not achieve.
That being said, Course’s Gloria could use a little bit of glitter at times. At no point in the play do I find her character attractive, though she hits the mark at being the “new woman” and is successful at accurately displaying her hardness and her confusion, trying to meld her mother’s views with her own. There are points when she cracks and you think you may begin to see a softness, but even in those moments, she is undeniably terrifying.
Coupled with the scheming, bold and vivacious Valentine, I just don’t buy their attraction to each other. Though they are supposed to be mismatched, they somehow seem wildly incompatible at all times.
The real gem of the play is Peter Millard as William, who is nothing but theatrical magic from start to finish. As the modest, yet witty waiter, every moment is an honest one. He has a sparkle in his eye and unmatchable heart that he carries through the entire performance.
The set, lighting, projection and sound designs match Mezon’s vision for the play – a big, loud spectacle.
However, with every lavish set change, the floor remains the same: checkerboard tiles – a clever choice by designer Leslie Frankish, who has the characters running around like players in a game.
Mezon definitely takes a “go big or go home” approach to this production and for the most part, it works. This rendition is not dainty by any means. It is intentionally and overwhelmingly cheeky. The characters are bold and the designs are a hodge-podge of colours and patterns that get right in the faces of the audience members. Ha, ha, it says. Made you look.
You Never Can Tell plays at Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre until Oct. 25. For more information visit www.shawfest.com.