Heartbreak House, 3***, London

by George Bernard Shaw.

3 ***
The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1 0LR to 3 February 2018.
Tues-Say 7.30pm. Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Review: William Russell 10 January.

The end of days

This is a good, solid but not memorable production of Shaw’s celebrated play first staged in 1919 about a vague and never defined apocalypse threatening an effete Edwardian society, a pending doom which that society simply ignored. It has been cut by director Phil Willmott, which is not necessarily a good thing, although Shaw can be wordy, but the words are always worth hearing.

The action takes place in Captain Shotover’s country home where his daughter Hesione Hushabye – Helen Anker twinkling away like mad being entrancing – is playing host to Ellie Dunn, an apparently simple young girl who is planning to marry Boss Mangan, an elderly industrialist, for his money. Hesione wants to dissuade her from such folly. Shotover – James Horne bumbling away pleasantly enough without ever quite dominating things as he should do – is an eccentric inventor and sage, a former sea captain, while her husband Hector, a strapping Mat Betterridge, is a military man with an eye for the ladies – and the man Ellie is in love with. Her sister Lady Ariadne Utterword – Francesca Burgoyne rather overdoing the bossiness – has turned up out of the blue with her wet husband Randall whom she despises. Ellie’s father also turns up, there is a comic maidservant and a comic burglar also arrives up before the bombs start to fall.

The first act proved somewhat stodgy the night I saw it – the Chekhovian theatrical soufflé refused to rise and there was an awful lot of acting going on – but in act two everyone seemed to get into their stride and the play took over. Things more or less started to soar and the Shavian wit to sparkle as it should. But the cash strapped family remains unaware of what is coming, seeing the bombs as a diversion which gave them something to talk about and some excitement.

There is a splendid set by Justin Williams & Jonny Rust, and Shaw’s take on Chekhov plays where the old world is facing Armageddon but doesn’t quite know it, remains as topical as the day it was written. It may be Edwardian England but it could as easily be today with the doom of Brexit and nuclear warfare a possibility once again as North Korea and Donald Trump huff and puff. The production will probably settle down as the run proceeds and it will be interesting to look back at it when The Cherry Orchard, the next play in this three production Wilmott season, comes along. The difference is Chekhov was writing about a society facing extinction but from what and how he did not know. Shaw knew all about the Great War.

Ellie Dunn: Lianne Harvey.
Nurse Guinness: Alison Mead.
Captain Shotover: James Horne,
Lady Ariadne Utterword: Francesca Burgoyne.
Hesione Hushabye: Helen Anker,
Mazzini Dunn: Ben Porter.
Hector Hushabye: Mat Betteridge.
Boss Mangan: JP Turner.
Randall Utterword: Toby Spearpoint.
Burglar: Richard Harfst.

Director: Phil Willmott.
Set Design: Justin Williams & Johnny Rust.
Costume Design: Penn O’Gara.
Sound Design: Philip Matejtschuk.
Lighting Design: Ben Jacobs.
Assistant Director: Nicky Allpress.

2018-01-11 14:23:38

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