If all great truths begin as blasphemies then George Bernard Shaw was undoubtedly the most blasphemous man of his age. In this captivating one-man show, Dublin-born Paddy O’Keefe brings to life the words and works of Socialism’s greatest behemoth, without forgetting to show us a glimpse of his humanity.
O’Keefe delivers a rallying call to action which cannot be ignored, and I left the Redroaster’s cosy embrace thinking: ‘Come on Brighton! Let’s shake things up, Shaw style!’
Shaw, a self-declared genius, is a character ripe for the stage. Playwright, critic, fearsome vegetarian and Irish republican, he is a figure who has provoked and inspired audiences for well over a century. And this show certainly does justice to a man of many talents and few friends. His laconic wit is showcased in a script crafted with carefully interwoven quotes and quips, skilfully delivered by a playful O’Keefe. Dissatisfied with a roll call of credits, O’Keefe wants to show us the real Bernard Shaw. And that’s when this show gets interesting.
Delving into Shaw’s peculiar childhood (he was raised by three fathers and an emotionally unavailable mother) the script turns an unflinching gaze on Shaw’s inner life. O’Keefe is at his most magnetic when holding court on the most heartfelt of Shaw’s themes: politics, love and the theatre. Strolling the stage, straw hat in hand, the actor glows as if imbued with Shaw’s stubborn, vulnerable brilliance.
The show begins to lag, however, when the subject matter turns from Shaw’s passions to a string of anecdotes about the leading lights of the early 20th century. After a few witty quips from Wilde, Wells and Webb this name-dropping becomes tedious and interrupts an otherwise engaging show. At 90 minutes, the show is also a little too long, despite the comfortable environs of Redroaster Coffee House.
When O’Keefe bowed himself off the stage to rapturous applause, my Fringe companion leant over to me and commented with a twinkle in her eye: ‘Well, he certainly seems to like this Shaw character.’ And it is this very fascination which keeps the show from the mire of indulgence into which it might easily have fallen. O’Keefe delivers a rallying call to action which cannot be ignored, and I left the Redroaster’s cosy embrace thinking: ‘Come on Brighton! Let’s shake things up, Shaw style!’