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Man and Superman

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Man and Superman

by George Bernard Shaw

Genre: Drama
Format of Original Source: Play
Recommended Adaptation Length: Two Hours

Candidate for Adaptation? Promising


One of Shaw’s masterpieces. Acts One, Two and Four follow the stormy romance between John Tanner (a wealthy, politically-minded intellectual who values his freedom) and Ann Whitefield (a charming, scheming hypocritical young woman who wants Tanner as a husband). Once Tanner realizes that Miss Whitefield is hunting for a spouse and that he is the only target, he attempts to flee, only to find out that his attraction to Ann is too overwhelming to escape. Act Three is a dream sequence featuring Don Juan, Mephistopheles and several other literary or mythic figures.

an excerpt:

ANN. [placidly] I am so glad you understand politics, Jack: it will be most useful to you if you go into parliament [he collapses like a pricked bladder]. But I am sorry you thought my influence a bad one.

TANNER. I don’t say it was a bad one. But bad or good, I didn’t choose to be cut to your measure. And I won’t be cut to it.

ANN. Nobody wants you to, Jack. I assure you–really on my word–I don’t mind your queer opinions one little bit. You know we have all been brought up to have advanced opinions. Why do you persist in thinking me so narrow minded?

TANNER. That’s the danger of it. I know you don’t mind, because you’ve found out that it doesn’t matter. The boa constrictor doesn’t mind the opinions of a stag one little bit when once she has got her coils round it.

ANN. [rising in sudden enlightenment] O-o-o-o-oh! NOW I understand why you warned Tavy that I am a boa constrictor. Granny told me. [She laughs and throws her boa around her neck]. Doesn’t it feel nice and soft, Jack?

TANNER. [in the toils] You scandalous woman, will you throw away even your hypocrisy?

ANN. I am never hypocritical with you, Jack. Are you angry? [She withdraws the boa and throws it on a chair]. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that.

TANNER. [contemptuously] Pooh, prudery! Why should you not, if it amuses you?

ANN. [Shyly] Well, because–because I suppose what you really meant by the boa constrictor was THIS [she puts her arms round his neck].

TANNER. [Staring at her] Magnificent audacity! [She laughs and pats his cheeks]. Now just to think that if I mentioned this episode not a soul would believe me except the people who would cut me for telling, whilst if you accused me of it nobody would believe my denial.

ANN. [taking her arms away with perfect dignity] You are incorrigible, Jack. But you should not jest about our affection for one another. Nobody could possibly misunderstand it. YOU do not misunderstand it, I hope.

TANNER. My blood interprets for me, Ann. Poor Ricky Tiky Tavy!

ANN. [looking quickly at him as if this were a new light] Surely you are not so absurd as to be jealous of Tavy.

TANNER. Jealous! Why should I be? But I don’t wonder at your grip of him. I feel the coils tightening round my very self, though you are only playing with me.

ANN. Do you think I have designs on Tavy?

TANNER. I know you have.

ANN. [earnestly] Take care, Jack. You may make Tavy very happy if you mislead him about me.

TANNER. Never fear: he will not escape you.


This is a huge play, and an intellectual audience’s expectations for a musical adaptation would be enormous. Some will say you can’t present the play without Act Three; some will say you can’t present it WITH Act Three; few will say it’s begging to be SUNG.

Make no mistake: it’s a wordy, wordy play. There’s one scene of high comic drama late in the play (the final wooing scene, worthy of Kate and Petruchio), and a little bit of tension with some bandits…but much of the rest of the show is talking, talking, talking.

Act Three by itself might make a very satisfying opera?

As with other Shaw source material, if you want to tackle this one, you should research what other musical adaptations already exist.


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