Heartbreak House – August 2012

7/10

By George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Richard Clifford

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 2nd August 2012

Even though the performances have come on since we saw this last time, I found the experience less enjoyable. I had no expectations previously, so it was a delightful surprise to find myself liking the production very much. This time I may have expected too much, and while the cast had all come on in three weeks, I didn’t find the humour worked so well for me; unlike Wilde’s wit, which can be heard time and again and still be funny, Shaw’s jokes seem to pall with repetition. Still it’s an excellent production of this play, and I’m glad to have seen it.

There were no changes I could see to the set or staging, and the changes to performances were mostly a sharpening up of detail. Fiona Button, who played Ellie Dunn, seemed to have come on the most; her character matured considerably from the start of the play to the last scene.

The ‘strange’ bits I mentioned last time were at the end of each act. The first act ended with Hector, Hesione and Captain Shotover doing a dance and chant near the front of the stage, almost an incantation. The interval was taken after a shot rang out, breaking the second act in two, and the action restarted in the same place. The second act ended with a meaningful line from Hector, while towards the end of the third act the characters simply behaved even more strangely, especially when threatened with a bombing raid. The point was made in the post-show that these people would not have been aware of the sounds of a raid in the way we are now, which is reasonable, but even so their attitudes owe more to Shaw’s desire to put his political ideas before us than any ‘real’ behaviour on their part.

The post-show was very interesting. With such a balanced ensemble, I asked how their sense of equality developed. The director had a major part to play, of course, but the actors all contributed, with egos being noticeably absent. And the fact that Shaw had written ten good parts was a great help. The play’s relevance to today was illustrated by George Layton’s experience of travelling to Chichester this week and seeing lots of people dressed up, drinking champagne, and heading for Glorious Goodwood. As usual, we asked what the theatre was like to perform in, and they made the usual replies (needs a lot vocally, but nice to have the audience wrapped around you, always have your back to someone, etc.). Although the room design kept the action contained in a smaller area, we didn’t feel cut off from the performance, which was good. All the cast had a chance to contribute tonight, another sign of the harmony amongst them, and we went home happy, again.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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