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Heartbreak House review at Union Theatre, London – ‘a satisfying revival’

Scene from Heartbreak House at Union Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander Scene from Heartbreak House at Union Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander
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The Phil Willmott Company’s regular season at the Union Theatre revives classic plays that reflects social and political issues in contemporary society.

George Bernard Shaw’s 1919 play Heartbreak House is no exception as its characters negotiate the petty irrelevances of class while ignoring the far-reaching implications of the collapse of Europe into war.

Justin Williams and Jonny Rust’s fascinating set is rich in detail, for once making the most of the Union’s black box space, while complementing the many layers of the play.

Owing a debt to Chekhov, the play highlights Shaw’s ability to write strong, unconventional and progressive roles for women and the company rise to the challenge with thoughtfully constructed performances. As Ariadne, Francesca Burgoyne sails into the comedy, exuding Edwardian vanity, and yet the ruthlessness with which she destroys her ineffectual husband is brutal. Lianne Harvey as Ellie is not the mouse we first suspect but a woman who brokers her own marriage with unanswerable logic, while Helen Anker’s amiable Hesione gaily manipulates the gathering to suit her bohemian ideals.

JP Turner’s brusque Boss Mangan and Ben Porter’s socially immobile Mazzini who hint at political change and by James Horne’s magnificent Captain Shotover, whose random logic gradually reveals him to be the most progressive thinker in the play.

Willmott’s direction seems a little apprehensive at first but as the rhythm settles and the tone is firmly established, possibly at the arrival of Mat Betteridge’s preening Captain, then this shrewd comedy of manners falls agreeably into place.

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Satisfying revival of a George Bernard Shaw play that seems disturbingly relevant