Shaw’s morality tale about the complacency and apathy of the leisured class teetering on the brink of the First World War has a curiously modern undercurrent.
Emma Fielding (Hesione Hushabye) and Fiona Button (Ellie Dunn) in Heartbreak House at the Festival Theatre, Chichester Photo: Tristram Kenton
On a grand set with vast towering windows and doors, its moneyed characters flounce about, pronouncing endlessly on the subjects of life and love.
The pointless to-ing and fro-ing is maddening to watch but works well to sum them up - claiming to be ‘of the world’ and ‘truly living’ but in reality doing nothing. They love the idea and drama of violence and heartache because they have never really suffered.
Jacobi as grumpy old sea-dog Captain Shotover marches through his lines, as do all the cast as they plough through the many, many words in this lengthy play - but I sometimes found it difficult to hear clearly.
Shotover’s daughters Hesione (Emma Fielding) and Lady Utterwood (Sara Stewart), in a succession of gorgeous costumes by designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, sweep about being witty and adored, while Raymond Coulthard as the cad Hector Hushabye gets laughs for his duel with an imaginary foe which becomes press ups when disturbed, and for upbraiding the egomaniac Lady U for the offence of causing ‘a scene’.
Ellie Dunn, confidently played by Fiona Button, articulates her reasons for marrying for money while her fiance Boss Mangan (Trevor Cooper) played as a loud, ‘speak as I find’ northerner, is out of his depth in this whirl of over-confident, self-absorbed snobs.
Meanwhile, Ellie’s father, the ‘only good man’ she says, is played with a gentle bemused air by Ronald Pickup.
A play that deserves to be seen.