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The Shaw Society, the UK-based charitable organization dedicated to celebrating the theatre and writings of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, proudly announces the election of two esteemed theatre, film and television icons, Dame Sian Phillips and Patricia Hodge OBE, as Trustees. Their wealth of experience and connection to Shaw’s works promises to enhance Society’s mission and further its impact in the world of theatre.
The Shaw Society, established in 1941, has been at the forefront of promoting and honouring the theatrical legacy of George Bernard Shaw, with a commitment to fostering appreciation and understanding of Shaw’s theatre and writings. The Society actively supports performances, educational initiatives, and various projects centred around Shaw’s literary brilliance. The Society’s President is Sir Michael Holroyd, and Vice–Presidents include Dame Judi Dench, Richard Digby-Day, Bonnie Greer OBE, Michael Rosen and Harry Hadden-Paton.
The distinguished Welsh actress, Dame Sian Phillips, brings an incomparable depth of knowledge and expertise to The Shaw Society’s board of Trustees. Dame Sian captivated audiences with her unforgettable portrayal of Hesione Hushabye opposite John Gielgud in a 1977 BBC Play of the Month production of Shaw’s Heartbreak House. Her exceptional performances in St Joan in 1958 and in Major Barbara at the National Theatre in 1982 have solidified her reputation as an accomplished Shavian and a true luminary of the British stage.
Dame Sian Phillips, photography by Nick James
Patricia Hodge OBE, another esteemed addition to the board, is celebrated for her remarkable contributions to the world of theatre, film and television. An actress always in demand, she is currently preparing for a West End run of Noël Coward’s Private Lives opposite Nigel Havers. Hodges’s notable appearance in David Hare’s 1997 production of Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House thrilled audiences and added to her already impressive portfolio of performances, spanning decades.
Patricia Hodge OBE, photography by Alisa Connan
Dame Sian Phillips expressed her excitement about joining The Shaw Society and continuing her advocacy for theatre and the timeless artistry of George Bernard Shaw, “Speaking as an actress, GBS has long been one of my favourite writers. I am proud to be part of a society that is dedicated to the protection and promotion of his work”. As Trustees, Dame Sian Phillips and Patricia Hodge will play a pivotal role in guiding The Shaw Society’s future endeavours, supporting the organization’s initiatives, and nurturing a vibrant theatre community that appreciates the brilliance of George Bernard Shaw’s writings.
The two ‘national treasures’ are joined by six other newly elected Trustees: Murray Rosenthal- a theatre producer who has produced four operas based on Shaw plays, Christine Stevenson – who ran visitor services at The National Trust-owned Shaw’s Corner for two years, Ivan Wise – former editor of The Shavian (the Society’s publication), Esme Chandler – a retired barrister and long-time society member. John Foley an actor, writer and audiobook producer, and Eoin O’Callaghan- a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. They all look forward to contributing their insights and passion to further the Society’s mission of promoting Shaw’s works and legacy.
“We are absolutely delighted to welcome eight dynamic new members to The Shaw Society’s board of Trustees, all experts in their field.” said Maureen Clark-Darby, Chair of The Shaw Society, “The election of Dame Sian Phillips and Patricia Hodge OBE to the Society’s board, is a real thrill. Their affinity with Bernard Shaw’s works and their remarkable careers in theatre, film and television will undoubtedly enrich our organization and inspire future generations of theatre enthusiasts.”
‘Shakes Versus Shav’, a madcap puppet film featuring the voices of Colm Meaney as George Bernard Shaw and Derek Jacobi as William Shakespeare, will receive its world premiere at the 35th Galway Film Fleadh in July.
This new Irish short is based on the last play completed by legendary Irish playwright and Nobel Prizewinner, George Bernard Shaw. In a knockabout Punch & Judy style, Shaw himself battles it out with William Shakespeare in a war of words to decide who is the greater writer.
Written barely a year before he died in 1950 at the grand old age of 94, ‘Shakes Versus Shav’ was a final opportunity for the great GBS to celebrate his work and legacy, while taking a sly swipe at what he saw as Shakespeare’s overblown reputation. The film is true to Shaw’s original play: both funny and poignant, with laugh out loud slapstick moments, flashes of genuine drama and scathing wit. It’s a fresh and fitting tribute to two of the greatest writers in the English language … with strings attached.
Released to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the play’s publication, ‘Shakes Versus Shav’ is co-directed by puppeteer Damian Farrell (Star Wars, Jurassic World, Dark Crystal) and documentary-maker Gerry Hoban. The film grew out of a previous collaboration between the two while working with Gabriel Byrne on the IFTA Award-winning documentary about George Bernard Shaw, “My Astonishing Self”.
‘Shakes Versus Shav’ has been produced by Damian Farrell, Elaine Gallagher and Martha Moloney for Caboom, and is funded by Screen Ireland/Fís Éireann, along with RTÉ, Coimisiún na Meán and Section 481.
Despite his contemporary relevance, George Bernard Shaw is not often taught in schools. The Shaw Society aims to put that right, writes Dan Carrier
George Bernard Shaw in 1914
GEORGE Bernard Shaw once said: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
Shaw’s extraordinary output has continuing relevance today and it is the mission of the Shaw Society to spread his work to new audiences – and help people understand how this Irish playwright has much to tell us.
It was 1941 and the playwright’s 85th birthday when the Society began. Shaw was not best pleased and wanted no involvement, but the determination of a Shavian, Dr Fitz Loewenstein, saw him finally give in on the condition he did not have to do anything.
The Society began with a strong emphasis on Shaw’s politics, social and cultural thought.
Today, the Society continues to host talks and lectures and also has a mission to introduce Shaw to new audiences, reminding theatregoers of the range and impact of his work.
Actor and director Jonas Cemm is a Shaw Society trustee.
“It was very political and full of debate at the beginning – the left-wing intelligentsia were members, Fabians, members of the Humanist Society. Some of our members are still in that vein but it has become more performance-based.
“Part of our problem is people tend to think he is no longer relevant but that is just not the case,” says Jonas.
“Shaw writes about women’s rights, about poverty, and landlords. His play The Millionairess, which happened to have a run during the banking crisis of 2008, has the lines – ‘Never put your money in the bank’. He saw the challenges of capitalism and the dangers of finance.
“People seem to think Shaw is all about boring parlour dramas, but that is so far from the truth.”
Shaw was not afraid to tackle subjects Victorian prudes thought best avoided.
Mrs Warren’s Profession, written in 1898 and staged in 1902, was about a woman who worked as a prostitute and then ran her own brothel, to her daughter’s shame.
“It illustrates his approach to issues that others were uncomfortable recognising,” adds Jonas.
His place in the literary hierarchy means he is recommended for teaching in schools – but is not a go-to for English departments.
“We want to get Shaw back into classrooms. He is on the curriculum but it is rarely picked up,” says Jonas.
“Pygmalion is well-known, but it is not often taught.”
Encouraging revivals is another way of spreading Shavian thought.
“We sponsor theatre companies and showcase new writing in the style of Shaw,” he adds.
Shaw offered a running commentary on contemporary issues, not just with biting satire but through letters and essays.
“He was what today would be called a troll,” jokes Jonas.
“If he was around now he would be on Twitter and throwing out the opposing argument to whatever he was reading. He would argue, for example, at length with GK Chesterton – whatever views Chesterton espoused he would take the opposing argument. It was about creating healthy debate.”
“He loved shaking things up, and it doesn’t do to take GBS too seriously.”
Over the decades – Shaw died in 1950 aged 94 – he was never out of the public glare.
“He was one of the first modern celebrities in terms of he knew his own brand and how to sell himself – everyone knew what he looked like.”
Shaw’s longevity meant not only was he engrained in the nation’s cultural psyche, it meant he fell quickly out of fashion. It was as if his fame had made him too commonplace.
“By 1960, people were rather sick of him and he fell out of favour,” remarks Jonas.
“They lumped him in with Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. But he was the grandfather of modern theatre and was firmly entrenched in the 20th century.”
Shaw and Wilde knew each other, and he also worked with Coward.
“They were contemporaries and ‘frenemies’,” adds Jonas.
“Shaw advocated for Wilde when he was arrested.”
Both Irish-born, their families had interacted when they were children.
“Strangely enough, Wilde’s father, who was a doctor, fixed a squint in Shaw’s father eye.”
Performing at Shaw’s Corner, Shaw’s former home in Hertfordshire, opened the Shavian world up for Jonas.
“I had read Pygmalion. I knew Shaw, but did not really know him,” he recalls.
“I was asked back to read a Shaw play and that was my gateway.”
Jonas runs the Shaw 2020 theatre company, promoting and performing the works and supporting other companies.
“Shaw is fresh, human and relevant,” he says.
“The question for us is how do we tell everyone that?”
Shaw never truly goes away and his work is set for a mainstream revival. There are currently two films in the making – Mr Shaw Goes To Hollywood, starring Derek Jacobi, and Not Bloody Likely, the story of the making of Pygmalion, with Helena Bonham Carter and Pierce Brosnan. Both celebrate the back stories of his work and through them his life and times.
For Jonas, acting and directing Shaw’s work is a complex and rich experience, and done with Shaw’s spectral figure of hovering over his shoulder.
“He wrote lengthy prefaces full of stage directions and repetition,” adds Jonas.
“For every play he wrote about his research and why he had done it.”
Adapting Shaw requires understanding his literary nuances. “If you cut his work too much you lose the rhythm he deliberately creates,” says Jonas.
“He is challenging. All through his writing he was ahead of his time. He was modern and by the 1960s people eventually caught up with him.
“We were already living in a GBS world – which was why he felt out of favour after he died – and why his revival today has much to tell us.”
• For more details of the Shaw Society visit www.shawsociety.org.uk
• Jonas Cemm is appearing at the York Rise Street Party, NW5, on Sunday, September 10, reading excerpts from Shaw’s works.
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