Heartbreak House – Abbey Theatre – Review

Heartbreak House Abbey

Ellie Dunn has chosen an unusual day to visit the house of Mrs. Hesione Hushabye. The house seems chaotic at the best of times, but this is the day that Captain Shotover’s other daughter, Lady Ariadne Utterword has chosen to visit her childhood home for the first time in 23 years. Ellie is soon joined in the house by her fiancée, the capitalist Alfred Mangan who is many years her elder, and her father, an employee of Mangan. Hesione has decided to convince Ellie that she should not marry Mangan, and has set about to break up the intended union by two different routes, to reason with Ellie and to win the heart of Mangan. Her sister’s arrival further complicates the events, as her brother in law and suitor Randall Utterword follows her to the house.

If this plot seems a little over complicated, that is the intention. This is a farce and borders on the ridiculous at times, with various comings and goings, loves and arguments evolving and ending through the course of the play. Being a Shaw play you don’t get away that easily, as there is still a level of moralising and discussions on the events of the time, that time being just before the start of the first World War. Themes such as the meaning of marriage, the morality of business, fate and society are dismantled like a small child pulling the wings off an insect.  The trivial nature of their discussions and infatuations are set against the seriousness of the battle that is about to commence.

The set by Alyson Cummins creates a nautical inspired den for Captain Shotover, with windows surmounting the curved mahogany panelled walls and timber floors. It is a stage with four doors that the characters fling open as they leave the stage. There is a small glimpse of the garden behind, which is later revealed in the final act.

Director Róisín McBrinn has decided not to step back from the elements of farce, but thoroughly embrace them. Kathy Kiera Clarke as Hesione Hushabye has hair directly from Helen Bonham Carter on an off day. Hector Hushabye’s costumes get steadily more ridiculous as the play gathers pace and the various discussions on the beauty of his moustache are quite bizarre. There are many good lines in this play and the well balanced cast deliver them with satisfying comic timing. It has a feel of a modern teen comedy, as the characters muse on their overly complicated love lives. The downside of all this is that it is a little too long. The play is nearly three hours including the interval and some of the later scenes do drag. The final sequences pull you back in and capture something quite unusual in the drama of the conclusion.

Heartbreak House runs at the Abbey Theatre until Saturday 13th September.

Barbara Brennan – Nurse Guinness
Kathy Kiera Clarke – Mrs Hesione Hushabye
Brendan Conroy – Billy Dunn
Nick Dunning – Hector Hushabye
Lisa Dwyer Hogg – Ellie Dunn
Marcus Lamb – Randall Utterword
Mark Lambert – Captain Shotover
Aislín McGuckin – Lady Ariadne Utterword
Chris McHallem – Mazzini Dunn
Don Wycherley – Alfred Mangan

Róisín McBrinn – Director
Alyson Cummins – Set Designer
Paul Keogan – Lighting Designer
Philip Stewart – Composer & Sound Designer
Niamh Lunny – Costume Designer

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