Heartbreak House

Definition

Theater

  • A sombre comedy by George Bernard Shaw, first performedin 1920 in New York and in 1921 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.Set during World War I, it depicts the boredom and frustration ofthe wealthy, who lack ideals and a purpose in life. The play showsthe strong influence of Chekhov.

    A number of friends gather at the house of 88-year-old CaptainShotover, a mad inventor of devices to annihilate the human race.(Cedric Hardwicke greatly impressed Shaw when he played therole in 1922.) Shotover's daughter Hesione brings a young friend,Ellie, who becomes enamoured with her host; other guests include Hesione'shusband, Hector Hushabye, and her sister, Lady Utterword.The play ends with an air raid.

    The role of Hesione was inspired by Mrs Patrick Campbell,but because of her on-and-off-again love affair with Shaw she wasnot allowed to play it.

    When the play was produced in 1929 at the Malvern Festival,Shaw complained during rehearsals that the explosion in the last actwas not loud enough. The stage manager promised to provide an opening-nightbang to remember, and warned the cast. When the cue came, Edith Evans(as Lady Utterword) spoke her line and covered her face but no soundeffect was heard. The play had ended and the audience was leavingwhen the ceiling suddenly collapsed with a roar, sending two theatregoersto hospital. Noted Cedric Hardwicke later, "Shaw for once seemedhappy." see also Hector Hushabye.

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