Michael Voysey Foundation

Playwright and Writer for TV and Radio

Bernard Shaw

‘MY ASTONISHING SELF’

One of the most successful of all Michael Voysey’s work was his one man show based on the life of Bernard Shaw. This is not the usual one-man show, in which a single performer stands before a lectern and reads exhaustively from the works of a famous writer. Max Adrian was the first actor to play the role in the Edinburgh Festival which later moved to London’s West End, followed by Broadway and Toronto. Dermot Walsh reprised the Role in the City of London Festival.

This is, in the best sense, a play, at once a delightful comedy and a touching drama, in which one incompatible actor creates the dramatic progression of Shaw the man, from his early days as an unknown office boy at 19 in Dublin, to his last moment as an international celebrity at 94. Other characters exist, but they exist by implication. It can be said of both Max Adrian and later of Dermot Walsh that they brought the characters to life. Speaking to them addressing letters to them through the actor’s art and Shaw’s wittily evocative descriptions. The script by Michael Voysey, which makes use of none of Shaw’s plays but takes material solely from his letters, criticisms and miscellaneous writings, the actor creates a doubled edged portrait of the man. There is of course, the dazzling verbal swordsman of world renown whom Shaw called “GBS” – my most successful piece of fiction.

There is also the painfully shy man who hid his vulnerability behind this brilliant mask.

Throughout the the 75 year progression of the play, there are delightful glimpses of both the public and the private Shaw: packing his carpet bag for England at 19, to escape both an uncongenial job and his employers daughter who went with it…having decided as he later described it to become “A professional man of genius”. He went on wittily rebuking the publishers who rejected his novels during his penniless years in London… celebrating his own arrival as music and theatre critic by attacking with fiendish glee the reputation of the hallowed famous. The story continues with him at first avoiding and at last yielding to the enticements of a determined lady admirer, who later became Mrs Shaw. Fifty years on the now frail Shaw, recalls with painful sadness the death of his wife Charlotte, visiting his wife’s room to speak to her compulsively, again and again… wondering at his “horrible old” age whether God was tired of him.

 

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