The war is over; now celebrate. We’ve all seen images of what the end of a war – a real, nation-threatening war – looks like: complete strangers kissing fervently in the street, dancing in the fountains, a general state of euphoria.
Yet a war leaves scars, and pushes aside problems that will now have to be dealt with. That’s as true in the victorious Sparta as John Ford’s The Broken Heart opens, as it was in Britain in 1944, and so the staging of the play in 1940s dress in a new production at the White Bear Theatre comes to make perfect sense.
With all of its surging hormones and thwarted passions this is a play suited to a mostly young cast, yet it is still a brave project for Secret Centre Theatre to take on with a group of actors just out of drama school.
Yet this is a successful production, even a triumphant production. These grand, tragic characters (it is easy to see why the early 19th-century Romantics loved this play) are played not as archetypes, but as real humans wrestling with their problems – if often spectacularly unsuccessfully. A few of the minor characters in the cast of 17 struggle with the Caroline language, but generally it is delivered with verve and pace, carrying the audience along with it.
Among the standout performances, Richard Keightley manages the difficult task of being both sympathetic yet also increasingly unbalanced in the central role of Orgilus, the young man who can’t come to terms with the loss of the woman he loved who was to have been his bride. Lindsay McConville as Calantha, the heir to the kingdom of Sparta, manages the final climactic scene with controlled power; Bridget Collins as Euphranea, the one woman who gets to live happily ever after, is all young, joyous, puppyish love.
Among the older generation, Kate King delivers a delightful performance as the cynical woman-of-the-world Grasius, who says of Bassanes (Malcolm Brand), the inadequate jealous stalker of a husband to whom Penthea was given by her brother, Ithocles: “It is a villainous world for one who can’t hold his own in it.” (One of the best lines in the play.) David Vale as Crotolon, Orgilus’s father, is an epitome of the proud but exasperated patriarch.
The director, Dan Horrigan, keeps the actors moving and the staging lively. This is not the old-style stand-and-deliver job that you see in so many “classic” productions.
Sitting in the front row, I did occasionally wonder if I was about to get an actor in my lap, but the movement in the end is always controlled and and the use of the wheelbarrow as a playful toy in the courtship scene between Euphranea and her paramour Prophilus (Alexander Gatehouse) is particularly well done.
Effective use is made too of an onstage piano, which has sometimes surprising – if in one death scene slightly hackneyed – roles, and of the classically ephereal voice of Emily Johnston as Philema.
This is truly classic theatre as entertainment. If you’ve got any “Juliets” or “Romeos” in your household, you might further convert them to classic theatre with this production.