by George Bernard Shaw.
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP In rep to 25 August 2012.
7.30pm 28 July, 1-3, 7, 11, 13, 14, 17, 22, 24, 25 Aug.
2.15pm 28 July, 1, 3, 11, 17, 22, 25 Aug.
Audio-described 11 Aug 2.15pm, 17, 24 Aug 7.30pm.
BSL Signed 1 Aug 7.30pm.
Captioned 25 Aug 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 July.
Hearts barely moved, let alone broken.
Part of Bernard Shaw’s declared 1914-1918 war effort was to withhold this play from production. It would, he declared, have sapped morale too much. Watching Richard Clifford’s Chichester production you might agree. The streams of paradox can weary, while the procession of speech induces its own lethargy.
Shaw, of course, meant no such thing. His “fantasia in the Russian manner on English themes” misreads Chekhov as much as the playwright widely misread (or partially read) Ibsen. Shaw develops political paradoxes through his characters, rather than evaluating individual lives through deep feelings while the samovar’s boiling.
Heartbreak House represents cultured, leisured Europe drifting towards the war presaged by the burglar whose intrusion neatly ends the first act at Chichester, and which comes with the final bombing raid. The author’s Preface makes clear the other aspect of society shown here is the no-nonsense practicality of Horseback Hall.
The two are contrasted by sisters Hesione and Ariadne (whose recommendation of horses comes late in the play). A production needs to distinguish the sisters now the obvious indications have slipped into history. It’s something Clifford doesn’t make clear amid his production’s various fantastications.
And there’s room for industrialist Boss Mangan to be more than the stock booming northerner Trevor Cooper presents. Though he is obvious casting.
That’s one problem. The play’s cast from ‘obvious’ actors who are left within their comfort zones. There’s little sense of actors discovering anything about their characters. What do Jo Stone-Fewings’ farcical routines suggest other than that the actor grew bored during rehearsals? And the interlude with the Burglar comes as comic relief rather than part of the comic argument.
Only the finest actors overcome such circumstances. As Captain Shotover Derek Jacobi treads the line between abstraction from the scene around and concealed awareness of what’s happening. When Fiona Button’s young Ellie catches him out, he simply carries on, surviving on wild reputation in a house where ostentatious sociability goes with disregard for comfort.
Jacobi makes Shotover’s scene with Ellie one of the few where the ideas are clear; something that this generally over-elaborated, stylistically inconsistent production rarely achieves.
Nurse Guinness: Maroussia Frank.
Ellie Dunn: Fiona Button.
Captain Shotover: Derek Jacobi.
Lady Utterwood: Sara Stewart.
Hesione Hushabye: Emma Fielding.
Mazzini Dunn: Ronald Pickup.
Hector Hushabye: Raymond Coulthard.
Boss Mangan: Trevor Cooper.
Randall Utterwood: Jo Stone-Fewings.
Billy Dunn: George Layton.
Director: Richard Clifford.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Composer: Jason Carr.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Assistant director: Psyche Stott.