Sometimes there is of course a certain delight in heartbreak. There are these certain times when you wouldn’t particularly mind everything being turned on its head. Do you remember opposite day? That childhood ritual of brattily inverting or ‘oppositing’ everything? Today is opposite day. Or at least it is at the Abbey with their current production of George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House. Or I mean, it’s not! It just gets so confusing. It is difficult and exhausting to sustain constant chaos, which I suppose why this is only the Abbey’s first attempt to stage this highly vivacious play. I am not calling George Bernard Shaw a brat child, Heartbreak House‘s charm does truly come in its fervent inversion.
I’ll tell you what is not opposite day about it, it has all the tailored elegance that any Shaw play produced at the Abbey should have. The set holds true to Shaw’s notoriously zealously detailed stage directions, it’s good to honor these as it is all done in celebration of the fellow’s 110th birthday, you wouldn’t want to be rude. The set is satisfyingly shelved with all the desired books, fin de siècle inkwells, and navigational utensils. What is more, all this is on a boat, or a house built in the likeness of a boat, which is only the beginning of this play’s mischief. Hesione Hushabye (Kathy Keira Clark) and her father Captain Shotover (Mark Lambert) run a riotous sort of household (mutinous sort of boatload) spurred on by bohemianism and ennui they are forever meddling in, upturning, and minding the lives of their guests.
As a farce of sorts, there are entrances upon shrill, extravagant entrances. In the beginning of the first act, the actors seem tensed and perhaps overly excited for the exhaustive work ahead of them, there is a bit too much exuberant crawling on the furniture for my liking. From his very entrance, Chris McHallem as Mazzini Dunn in the midst of all the ruckus provides a modest, persuasive, and confident performance. Eventually, all the performances ease into impressively fine tuned grace. There are delightfully choreographed moments, such as a coy reveal of a dandy’s pink socks. What a dandy, Nick Dunning makes an awfully charismatic performance as Hector Hushabye. And what pink socks! Costume designer Niamh Lunny has the cast in such exquisite finery, right down to the mad sea captain’s Moroccan slippers.