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It becomes a matter of little significance that the revolutionary activities of this Tanner should be circumscribed by marriage.

100 years of Man and Superman: Michael Holroyd on Bernard Shaw

His air of frivolity vanishes during the hell scene, but here his attempt at the aristocratic chill becoming to Don Juan degenerates sometimes into mere posturing. As the determined Ann Whitefield, who forces Jack Tanner to his knees and her arms, Rosemary Harris makes a delicious seductress, ensnaring her prey with a wonderfully cool, crafty grace. In his stage directions Shaw calls Ann "one of the vital geniuses," and Tanner says, referring to her, "Vitality in a woman is a blind fury of creation. At any rate, she makes it completely credible that, though Tanner regards marriage as "apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat," he should finally agree to transgress his deepest instincts in order to marry her.

The supporting cast is of varying quality, but no one in it is less than adequate.

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Jerome Kilty gives a good greasy performance in the double role of the pseudo-romantic brigand Mendoza and "that strange monster called a devil. Kilty's Devil is put in the shade by the definitive performance of Charles Laughton, it still has excellences of its own. The fourth participant in the hell scene, an apostate from heaven who has left the "icy mansions of the sky" to embrace hellish hedonism, is Don Juan's Mozartean enemy the Statue, here transformed into a good-natured, brainless chap who "always did what it was customary for a gentleman to do.

Shaw's image of the romantic man, a soft and chivalrous idealizer of woman, is not a completely successful character; as usual when Shaw attempts this type, the result here is a second-rate Shelly. Ellis Rabb makes the part into a delicate caricature of delicacy, amusingly undermining any possibility of our trying to take poor Octavius seriously--which may be just as well. Tom Martin is good as the new Leporello; Cavada Humphrey and Robert Rees Evans are adequate but labored as the heroine and hero of a romantic subplot.

These worthies are under the direction of Mr. Kilty, who has deployed them with considerable skill on a graceless set by William D. The hell scene in the Kilty production drags a bit, as it never does in the considerably-longer recorded version; probably it simply needs greater virtuosity than this cast could bring to it. Kilty does not take the play as seriously as he might, and the result is a rather superficial performance.

But it is done with flamboyance and zest, and if the result is far from definitive, it is still delightful. Never seen the play?

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Tanner, though, has serious, revolutionary-minded things to say, albeit wrapped in aphoristic wit of a Wildean hue. Shaw uses him to subvert the legendary figure of the incorrigible womaniser Don Juan. Ralph Fiennes: 'Class is this country's Achilles heel'. The that never was: Ralph Fiennes comes clean on Bond.

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Dara, National Theatre: 'ambitious'. Godwin mischievously blows the dust off the period-trappings, using modern costumes and dominating the stage with an abstract back-wall of translucent white panels. The danger is that Tanner will turn into a priggish, conceited bore but, sporting a beard and still-dashing looks, the actor maximises the twinkling, good-humoured charisma of the man, while letting you appreciate his volatile mixture of self-certainty, cynicism and borderline hysteria. Has he ever been more in command on stage? Super, man. Sign up.

Man and Superman, by Bernard Shaw

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