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Heartbreak House – Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester

Writer: George Bernard Shaw

Director: Richard Clifford

Reviewer: Steve Turner

[rating: 2]


Bernard Shaw’s play was conceived in the run up to World War One and further worked upon in 1916 in the Sussex country side with the sounds of the distant guns of the Somme offensive in the background. Tonight in the Chichester Festival Theatre, nestling in the Sussex countryside, the sound of the guns is replaced by the incessant drumming of the rain on the roof. The rain is a constant reminder of the world outside, something which is absent from Shaw’s play right up until the final scene. Indeed the play could be set at any time early in the 20th century as the arrival of the zeppelins towards the very end is the only allusion towards the world outside of the social circles of the characters.

In its time the play, and Shaw’s views on the conduct of the war, caused consternation among his fellow authors, today however the effect is somewhat muted. The writing is as skilful as one would expect and there is plenty of wit to keep the audience amused but for me the whole seemed rather superficial. Perhaps it is the lack of depth in the characters, or perhaps the distance between the setting of the play and the current day, but something seemed to be missing. Even the surroundings of the amphitheatre within the Chichester Festival Theatre seemed to be a little out of place, with the more intimate space of the Minerva perhaps more suited to this play; full of dialogue but little physical action to fill the space.

Performed by an excellent cast, on a well crafted and superbly lit set, with some excellent sound and visual effects the work does not quite add up to the sum of its parts.

It is always a treat to watch someone of the class of Derek Jacobi, and the opening part of the second act certainly benefits from his prolonged presence on stage, but no matter how well he and the rest of the cast perform their rôles the play does not hit the mark for me.

Runs until 25th August 2012 at Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester.


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  1. Avatar

    Sadly this is not a good play nor production. Jacobi is superb and outclasses the rest of the cast, although Ron Pickup is good.
    The play is sadly confusing, boring at times and lacks any depth that it is supposed to convey.

  2. Avatar
    Richard Perkoff

    Verbose, pontificating as only Shaw can be, and now hopelessly outdated. Despite the essay in the programme, it is impossible to discern any relevance to the modern world. Occasional wit fails to cover up the arthritic creaks of the plot devices (including the ludicrous introduction of the lower-class, burglar/conman with a philosophicl turn; a pale reflection of Pa Dolittle).
    When it ended, the audience reaction seemed to be predominantly one of relief. I suspect that that feeling was shared by the wasted cast.