Review: Sandals, stage blood and sweet revenge in The Broken Heart, Sam Wanamaker Theatre
John Ford's more well known work is Tis Pity She's a Whore* and while that focused on the incestuous relationship between a brother and sister The Broken Heart is about brotherly betrayal.
Set in the court of the King of Sparta, Ithocles (Luke Thompson) stops his sister Penthea (Amy Morgan) marrying her betrothed Orgilus (Brian Ferguson) by marrying her off nobleman Bassanes (Owen Teale).
Later, having returned victorious from battle, and seeing how his sister suffers he has feelings of regret. He falls in love with Princess Calantha (Sarah MacRae) who is set to marry someone else. Meanwhile Orgilus, despite warnings, plots his revenge.
Director Caroline Steinbeis makes the most of the source material. She draws out the comedy as well as the passion and drama and the two hours and 45 minute running time (including interval) is peppered with some great moments however it is not until the plot threads start to come together that it really satisfies.
Owen Teale stands out as Bassanes, he's tyrannical, irrational and jealous and yet the performance just skirts the comic so that you don't know whether to be afraid or laugh, particularly when he is staring right at you from just two feet away.
With Joe Jameson's Nearchus he has us at "hello" - it's all in the delivery - which makes it a shame that, that character doesn't have more to do. The same can be said for Bassanes' two servants played by Adam Lawrence and Sanchia McCormack who bring a welcome light relief and pretty much steal the few scenes they are in.
Aside from the performances this is a production that will be remembered for its particularly stunning costumes. Think mixtures and combinations of ruffs, pantaloons, breast plates, headdresses and sandals, lots of different sandals in fact.
When the Princess Calantha is crowned after the death of her father, her winged and bustled outfit is lowered down on wires and she manoeuvres into it - Queen Elizabeth I never had anything quite like this.
It all leads up to the inevitable tragic deaths and bloody revenge - it's Jacobean drama, you'd be disappointed if at least one character didn't meet a gruesome end. The Sam Wanamaker gets a Stan thumbs up for the first spilling of stage blood this year and in such a volume as to keep the suppliers happy. Luckily for the stage crew one of the cast kindly puts down a sheet to protect the carpet.
I still have problems with the Sam Wanamaker theatre as a venue but managed to get a slightly more comfortable seat, albeit with a slightly restricted view. The actors used every entrance and exit available to them and the intimacy of the space made you feel almost part of the action which almost made up for it.
The Broken Heart runs at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre until 18 April.
* Cheek By Jowl did a great production at the Barbican