Village Wooing by George Bernard Shaw

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RTE Drama on One, 15 August 2011
Anything can happen on a cruise ship. In this case A (Cyril Cusack), an upper class, educated travel writer who would just like to work in solitude meets Z (Siobhan McKenna), a chatty phone operator with a mission to marry him. Despite his initial reluctance, he is gradually drawn into conversation, although he clearly feels that she is socially beneath him. In scene II they meet again by accident in her workplace, a village shop on the Wiltshire Downs. A is persuaded to buy the shop and become her employer. Here he learns "more in three months than he did in three years at Oxford," but the two continue to spar with each other. However we understand that there exists little or no animosity between them, as they decide to get married.

In this vintage production, Shaw's play came across a little like Pygmalion in reverse. Whereas the earlier play has Eliza Doolittle wanting to pass off as a duchess, and hence opting to be taught by Professor Higgins, Village Wooing has A learning a lot about the realities of the workaday world, and how in many ways it is superior to the cerebral yet precarious life of a poet and sometime travel writer. A still pontificates about the delights of poesy, but in truth he is far more at home wearing a shopkeeper's apron and exchanging pleasantries with the customers.

Written nearly two decades after Pygmalion, Village Wooing reveals Shaw in more expansive socialist mood, as he understands how the village shop and those associated with it form the backbone of a stable society. At the same time the play offers great opportunities for actors to display their verbal skills, as they engage in a perpetual gane of cut-and-thrust, each trying to score points off the other while thoroughly enjoying themselves.

In this historic production, broadcast as part of RTE's excellent Sunday night Drama on One strand, Cusack and McKenna had great fun with Shaw's dialogue: Cusack came across as slightly exasperated with, yet curiously drawn towards McKenna's Z. McKenna's accent was simply delicious - a combination of strangulated upper-class vowels and Cockney twang. It was a privilege to be able to hear two of Ireland's greatest actors at the height of their vocal powers in a lighthearted romp through Shavian sophistry. What's more, the production is available on podcast: many thanks to RTE for making it available.