You don’t necessarily expect to be treated to the distinctive tones of Kirsty Young at the start of a marathon Shaw revival. Simon Godwin‘s remarkably assured and effervescent modern-dress production of Man and Superman kicks off, though, with a cheeky but pertinent Desert Island Discs gag. We hear Young introducing, as her castaway, the “provocateur” protagonist and author of a handbook designed to “set a new direction” for society, whom we are about to meet – and his first choice of record is the overture to Mozart‘s Don Giovanni which swells forth.
This sets the tone for a piece, which Shaw fittingly subtitled “a comedy and a philosophy”, in which the Don Juan myth is updated, with the roles pointedly reversed. The libertine has now turned revolutionary ideologue, his defiance of convention expressed through a determined flight from sexual relations with women who are seen as biologically driven by the “Life Force” to entrap men into marrying and impregnating them. The true “philosophic man”, by contrast, is bent on discovering the “inner will” of this force in its ever-higher forms of organization and self-consciousness.