Academy Award® nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List, Oedipus at the National Theatre) plays Jack Tanner in this exhilarating reinvention of Shaw’s witty, provocative classic. Jack Tanner, celebrated radical thinker and rich bachelor, seems an unlikely choice as guardian to the alluring heiress, Ann. But she takes it in her assured stride and, despite the love of a poet, she decides to marry and tame this dazzling revolutionary. Tanner, appalled by the whiff of domesticity, is tipped off by his chauffeur and flees to Spain, where he is captured by bandits and meets The Devil. An extraordinary dream-debate, heaven versus hell, ensues. Following in hot pursuit, Ann is there when Tanner awakes, as fierce in her certainty as he is in his. A romantic comedy, an epic fairytale, a fiery philosophical debate, Man and Superman asks fundamental questions about how we live.
What a piece of work is “Man and Superman”? Hard work, to be frank. George Bernard Shaw’s experimental juggernaut — deemed unstageable in 1903 — makes for three and a half hours of tangled philosophy: a blow-away light comedy weighed down by footnotes. It’s a play for changing times, a bid to throw off the past and make things anew, and yet Simon Godwin’s handsome, modern-dress revival at the National Theatre treats it as a cultural artefact. His production abandons its audience, offering no clues for decoding the text, while Ralph Fiennes plays the motor-mouth social reformer Jack Tanner like a tongue-twister challenge. You keep up or else.