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A FUNNY SORT OF HEARTBREAK...

Captain Shotover runs a mad house. Lots of swinging doors, heated arguments, characters popping out in fancy-dress (well, just Hector and his extravagant moustache) and, at one stage, a comical act of hypnotism.

There is more to Heartbreak House, however, than farcical proclamations. It's got the First World War on its doorstep, too.

Essentially a dinner-party piece without the dinner party, George Bernard Shaw's witty portrayal of familial disorder at the top wraps itself up in so many affairs of the heart that it should probably come with a handbook.

For a start, Ellie Dunn is due to be married to a wealthy businessman, Alfred Mangan. Alas, she is secretly in love with the aforementioned Hector. But wait, Hector is the husband of Ellie's mate, Hesione (and she knows all about her partner's philandering). Throw them all under the one roof - a glorious, country abode that sort of looks like a ship - and chaos ensues.

BANKRUPTCY

Everyone agrees that Mangan is too old to marry Ellie, and besides, she's only going ahead with the wedding so as to save her father from bankruptcy. Oh, and he got the invite to stay at the Captain's gaff, too. As did Mangan.

Did I mention the fact that the Captain's eldest daughter, Ariadne, has also come home for the weekend? She's also mad about Hector. That handbook would prove useful right about now, wouldn't it?

It's a good thing that Heartbreak House is entertaining, and its satirical look at British high society in the early 20th century (all greed, vanity and idleness) is what keeps this one going.

The language throughout is tremendous, even when a ridiculous running time almost causes it to fall in on itself (nearly three hours… bring a cushion).

The cast members overdo it, but that's the beauty of Heartbreak House. Its leading lothario (a super Nick Dunning) prances and preens through all the best lines. Old man Mangan (the always reliable Don Wycherley) throws spectacular temper tantrums, and the women (not least the fabulous Kathy Kiera Clarke as Hesione) just about steal the show.

An eerie finale puts them all in their place (director Roisin McBrinn's final shot will stay with you for hours). Though we're not too sure about that heavy-handed score.

A wacky, frock-and-dinner coat drama, with solid comedic performances, this was Bernard Shaw's "favourite play". It's not his best, mind, but it's still a good laugh.

Running until September 13 HHHII


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