Heartbreak House by Bernard Shaw at Chichester Festival Theatre

HEARTBREAK HOUSE - Credit: Johan Persson.
HEARTBREAK HOUSE - Credit: Johan Persson.

The trouble with Bernard Shaw is that most of his plays were merely a vehicle to express his ideas.

The characters, settings, and often limited plot, were all devices to give a platform for his social rage.

Heartbreak House is no exception.

It depicts the ruling classes of Europe drifting to self-destruction in the first world war.

Social metaphor upon metaphor are layered on to the canvas of a seemingly leisured country house weekend as the dialogue explodes with Bernard Shaw’s inner passions and despair.

No doubt, these themes possess a resonance today in the financial crisis.

The words remain relevant.

But there are too many of them. Shaw would never use one word when he could conjure up ten.

The difficulty too with a play that exists merely for its message is that it slips into the self-indulgence of the author.

The whole project feels horribly contrived – with the characterization nothing more than a mouthpiece for ideas.

That said, the star-studded cast – headed by the great Derek Jacobi as Captain Shotover – exact every hint of humour from the script.

This is a polished performance, matching the highest standards that one has come to expect from Chichester.

Some might argue it is almost too polished, given the brutal themes that it explores.

But despite the echoes of the crisis engulfing the world today, it’s a museum piece – and should be left there.

Gary Shipton