HEARTBREAK HOUSE is one of Bernard Shaw's most overtly political pieces. Written just before the outbreak of World War One, it lays bare the complacencies lurking at the heart of Britain's upper classes in the face of total war. It is a rather wordy piece, and needs a competent cast to render it entertaining to audiences. The BBC's PLAY OF THE MONTH production boasts an extremely competent cast of performers, including Sian Phillips, Daniel Massey, Lesley-Anne Down, Richard Pearson and Barbara Murray, who deliver the dialog efficiently, bringing out the Wildean aspects of Shaw's text, where words and phrases are used to shock as well as entertain. Director Cedric Messina is keen to underline the political aspects of the play, as he inserts several black-and-white sequences showing the Zeppelin, plus a montage at the end of the production comprised of Second World War bombing and the atom bomb in Hiroshima. The only real criticism that can be leveled at this production is that Messina omits one of the play's most significant lines, where Captain Shotover (John Gielgud) refers to what he terms "the seventh degree of concentration" - in other words, a state of forgetfulness induced by rum. The line emphasizes the extent to which the upper class characters in the play willfully blind themselves to what is happening around them.
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