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Heartbreak House

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Heartbreak House

by George Bernard Shaw

Genre: Drama
Format of Original Source: Play
Recommended Adaptation Length: Two Hours

Candidate for Adaptation? Promising


Considered by some to be Shaw’s masterpiece, subtitled “A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes,” Shaw brings us into a declining English country house, on the eve of WWI, with apocalyptic overtones. Darker and more brooding than is typical of Shaw.

An excerpt:MRS HUSHABYE. Well, we have had a very exciting evening. Everything will be an anticlimax after it. We’d better all go to bed.

RANDALL. Another burglar may turn up.

MAZZINI. Oh, impossible! I hope not.

RANDALL. Why not? There is more than one burglar in England.

MRS HUSHABYE. What do you say, Alf?

MANGAN [huffily]. Oh, I don’t matter. I’m forgotten. The burglar has put my nose out of joint. Shove me into a corner and have done with me.

MRS HUSHABYE [jumping up mischievously, and going to him]. Would you like a walk on the heath, Alfred? With me?

ELLIE. Go, Mr Mangan. It will do you good. Hesione will soothe you.

MRS HUSHABYE [slipping her arm under his and pulling him upright]. Come, Alfred. There is a moon: it’s like the night in Tristan and Isolde. [She caresses his arm and draws him to the port garden door].

MANGAN [writhing but yielding]. How you can have the face-the heart-[he breaks down and is heard sobbing as she takes him out].

LADY UTTERWORD. What an extraordinary way to behave! What is the matter with the man?

ELLIE [in a strangely calm voice, staring into an imaginary distance]. His heart is breaking: that is all.


Very rich material! But like Chekhov, it might translate into opera better than into musical theatre. And its WWI-centric universe might date the characters and themes (“the end of British civilization as we know it” — does that translate to today’s audience?) But there is rare honesty and depth of feeling in this play which could spawn an amazing musical, in the right hands.


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