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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Bernard Shaw Invites You!


Performed by Paddy O’Keeffe

Directed by Martin Nichols

Brighton Fringe: Hove Town Hall

There’s no doubt he’s enjoying the attention, but from his very first line George Bernard Shaw is fighting against any attempt to define him, to tie him down.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself!” he snaps at Paddy O’Keeffe who has just opened his one-man two-man show as himself, naively declaring his intentition to uncover the “real Bernard Shaw”.

A struggle ensues. O’Keeffe begins by giving Shaw his head, as you might break in a wild horse. On his 90th birthday, the playwright and political activist seizes the opportunity to review his long and busy career, the creation of himself through standing up against war and injustice without compromise.

Then O’Keeffe starts to dig away at the Shaw beneath the public persona; the sex, the relationships and, most tellingly, the problem he had with his parents. When, still a boy, Shaw realises they aren’t going to look after him as parents ought, he decides to take care of himself.

The suggestion is that this is the beginning of the making of Shaw, his resolute self-reliance keeping those who might love him at bay, to the extent that he never really understands even the people who are closest to him.

But he does understand the wider world. Something might be lost, but something gained in a political strength, an inspiring determination to hold your ground against opponents – which O’Keeffe plainly feels is relevant to our predicaments today.

It’s this that has drawn O’Keeffe, like Shaw an Irishman exiled in England, to his subject, his slippery adversary. And he draws us towards him, too, with an unusually compelling performance that has similarities with stand-up comedy in that it has structure but no fixed script.

In the question-and-answer session that follows the show proper, it turns out that O’Keeffe is a man who knows more about another man than any man arguably should. And he’s able to dip into that well of knowledge and understanding almost extempore, bringing up the stories and anecdotes and jokes and opinions out of which Shaw made himself, and out of which O’Keeffe is able to remake him.

We hang onto Shaw’s old words as though they are freshly coined, eager to know where the next turn, the next turn of phrase, will take us. Which is the best you can ask of a piece of theatre, really.

May 14, 2013

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