You Never Can Tell, Theatre Royal, Bath

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The Independent Culture

This being Shaw, the genial servant is a font of wisdom and tact, smoothing the waters as Mrs Clandon arrives at said hotel, grown-up twins in tow but lacking that "indispensable piece of social equipment: a father". They duly find him in the form of a crotchety local yacht-builder (Ken Bones), whose idea of children doesn't extend to this precocious pair of fun-loving hyperactives (Sinead Matthews and Matthew Dunphy).

Mrs Clandon is a walking wardrobe of the playwright's female obsessions, a fine woman whose marital past is a closed book. Diana Quick gives her the right stamp of spirited independence. Her elder daughter Gloria - heir to her mother's feminist opinions - eventually falls for Valentine, a broke "five shilling" dentist who seems intoxicated on life's laughing gas. Ryan Kiggell has us all saying "aaah" as love triumphs after a suitably Shavian battle between the sexes.

But it's the waiter with the knack of entering just as a social situation goes pear-shaped who carries off this comedy - on a tray. Edward Fox gives a physically deft if curious-sounding performance. It's as if the cast is being waited on by Edward VIII, Fox's patrician vowels emanating from the dim mists of his stage persona.

But you can only resist so long. In the end, it's a star turn. There's a lovely scene when the guests are joined by the waiter's son, an eminent QC. The family's interrogation by this peremptory silk (Michael Mears is excellent) offers a lovely contrast to his father's sunny platitudes.

Peter Hall orchestrates everything beautifully, and in 1896 period. You watch, buoyed up by its lightness and fizz, puzzled as to why Shaw's reputation continues to rust away like a derelict seaside pier.

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