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Shaw’s Wit Shines in O’Flaherty V.C.

Ben Sanders as O’Flaherty and Patrick McManus as General Sir Pearce Madigan in O’Flaherty V.C. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of Bernard Shaw’s most beloved plays, the anti-war O’Flaherty V.C., performed beautifully at the Royal George Theatre in downtown Niagara-On-The- Lake. This theatre was built in 1915 for the entertainment of troops garrisoned in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake during the First World War. So, it seems fitting that it is being used for this Lunchtime One-Act as part of the Shaw Festival’s programming to commemorate 100 years since the end of the War.

Upon first glance of the set, one is subject to a slideshow of clumsy posters designed by the British intending to recruit Irish soldiers to join them in the First World War, but as the play moves along we humourously find out why they really went to war.

The play starts with Dennis O’Flaherty (Ben Sanders), winner of the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the war, returning home to an Irish country house to take part in a British Army recruitment campaign.

Facing General Sir Pearce Madigan (Patrick McManus), the local squire, O’Flaherty confesses that he had been fighting for the British and not against them as his mother presumed.

Sparked by this conversation, the meanings of war, patriotism and bravery are questioned, challenged and teased by Shaw’s extraordinary wit. This section of O’Flaherty V.C., executed by McManus and Sanders can be considered as the best-performed part. After the entrance of Tara Rosling as O’Flaherty’s Irish Nationalist mother and Gabriella Sundar Singh as his girlfriend Teresa, the ambiance of the play transfers into a different level of visual, and verbal silliness which is well-conveyed through Mrs. O’Flaherty’s dress, makeup and voice.

Kimberly Rampersad, Director, could have kept a better balance between the two parts before and after Mrs. O’Flahety’s arrival. Before her entrance, the conversation between O’Flaherty and the General is amusing, sharp and clever. After her entrance, the ridiculousness of patriotism and prejudice is so boldly visual and mechanical which ultimately overshadows the brilliant verbal wit of the script. It seems that the heavy makeup on her face didn’t let the actress to pull the audience deeper into Mrs. O’Flahety’s personality.

With all of its accomplishments and shortcomings, this 45 minute one-act play is worth seeing. It has a bright contrast of humorous and entertaining moments while still being serious and thought-provoking.

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