“Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak. That is the whole secret of successful fighting. Get your enemy at a disadvantage; and never, on any account, fight him on equal terms.”
His first great success, Arms and the Man is at once one of GBS’s lightest plays and one of his most satirically cutting. While it’s clearly a parody of a type of play which has long fallen into well-deserved obscurity, the humour and the commentary within have both worn very well.
Set during one of the interminable Balkan wars which plagued the era and would lead eventually to the First World War, the play concerns a young girl, engaged to a local war hero, who finds a foreign mercenary hiding in her bedroom, who by turns shocks and beguiles her with old fashioned truth bombs. The mercenary is the original raisonneur, exposing the hypocrisy of the war, the age and the medium, but thankfully he’s also fuzzy round the edges, a wimp and a coward, with an inflated opinion of himself.
If this sounds too hackneyed to work, well, it is, but it isn’t, the execution is done well enough for it not to matter.
And here is the first part of a fuzzy rip of a Masterpiece Theatre style production, featuring a young Helena Bonham Carter