Augustus Does His Bit / O'Flaherty VC / Press Cuttings

13 November 2006 — 25 November 2006

Programme 1 of the Shaw shorts centres around war and conflict.

In Augustus Does His Bit, (directed by Toby Frow), Lord Augustus, sent to Little Pifflington to do his bit for the war effort, finds that rings are run around him.

While O’Flaherty VC, (directed by Adam Barnard), may be a wonderful recruiting example for his commanding officer, but if his mother finds out that he has been fighting for the English instead of against them then our “hero” is in trouble.

And in Press Cuttings, (directed by Adam Barnard), set during the disturbances created by the women’s suffrage movement, the only way that Prime Minister Balsquith can get from 10 Downing Street to meet with General Mitchener is by putting on a dress, shrieking “Votes for Women” and chaining himself to the War Office railings.

The Times wrote: "Here, as part of the Orange Tree’s Shaw season, is an unusual and pleasurable opportunity to enjoy some of the dramatist’s sparky short pieces. With their broad characterisation and farcical comedy, this trio of miniatures reveals a playful Shaw poking fun at the idiocies of the ruling classes.

The first triple bill in a set of two, it comprises a pair of wartime satires that, though absurdly funny, reveal terrifying imbecilities at military and governmental high level; and an earlier piece, 1909s Press Cuttings, in which the Prime Minister is beleaguered by the Suffragette movement while hostilities escalate in Europe. The supposed British virtues of stiff upper lip and valour in adversity are slyly set off against assertions that courage is merely a product of ignorance, and that English gentlemen are not, as Shaw’s bumbling Prime Minister Balsquith (a hybrid of Asquith and Balfour) puts it, “brought up to use their brains”.

The plays are full of insubordinate young privates and upper-crust doltish top brass. In Augustus Does his Bit, Augustus Highcastle, sent home from the Front following various embarrassing blunders, attempts to run a recruitment drive in the backwater of Little Pifflington. Distracted by the lack of fresh bread rolls following the internment of the local German baker, by his own fine waxed moustache and by any passing pretty face, Augustus is hardly a safe pair of hands for the military secrets for which he is responsible.

Meanwhile, in O’Flaherty VC, a young Irish recruit recently awarded the Victoria Cross admits he has no idea what the war is about, and that his mother, a committed Irish patriot, is under the impression that he is fighting against the English.

Press Cuttings is richly ridiculous, with Balsquith dressing in drag to fox hordes of militant women, while the only solution his military chief Mitchener (a dig at Kitchener) can offer to every conceivable problem is to “shoot ’em down”. Toby Frow and Adam Barnard’s productions practically dance with wit, and are acted with rough-round-the-edges relish by cast members from the theatre’s current admirable revival of Major Barbara.

Inevitably, these pieces don’t offer the complexity or dramatic sophistication of a full-length Shaw, but each one is as emphatic as a pistol shot — short, but extremely sharp."