The Broken Heart at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Earlier today, I went to the 2:30pm performance of John Ford’s The Broken Heart. John Ford (1586-1639) wrote this tragic play during the Caroline era (reign of Charles I). I thought it was superb and I can honestly say I have rarely had such an amazing time in a theatre. This was my first time inside the relatively new Sam Wanamaker playhouse, which is at the Globe Theatre complex. The Globe, also known as Shakespeare’s Globe, is a reconstruction of the Tudor theatre which once stood in the area.

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The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a lot more intimate than I thought it would be. There is a wonderful 17th-century feel to the whole place, a mixture of Jacobean and Restoration theatre with the wooden stage, the gilded dark wood backdrop, and the lighting – oh! the lighting! Real beeswax candles upon metal chandeliers, which were raised and lowered as required throughout the play. I didn’t see any modern lighting, and the actors usually held either a single candle or a candelabrum. There was a live orchestra which played music in the style of Early Music, and this added to the already enchanting ambience.

I wanted to treat myself, so I purchased a £35 ticket in the Pit, in seat D21, where the actors brushed by me to get up and down from the stage. I found this rather exciting and it made me feel like I was experiencing the play all the more. It was very nice how the actors used every part of the theatre, some even sat next to me and continued their lines! The costumes were sumptuous and largely historical (thank goodness, none of that minimalist rubbish that has popped up everywhere – even in Baroque opera productions!).

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I must admit that I have not read or seen any of Ford’s plays before, including Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, which I know by reputation to be a very good play. The play is set in Sparta, where a young man Orgilus speaks to his father about leaving for Athens because he cannot endure being in Sparta anymore. Why? The woman he loves, Penthea, who loves him in return, has been cruelly married off by her ambitious brother Ithocles to an old man, Bassanes, who is madly jealous of her. He pretty much keeps her locked up in his house to avoid any possible infidelity. His obsession makes him ridiculous and pitiable at the same time. There are three love matches in this play – and only one of them has a (relatively) happy ending!

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Ithocles is in love with Princess Calantha, and despite his having forced his sister into her loveless marriage to Bassanes, asks Penthea to help his suit with Calantha.

Nearchus, Prince of Argos, had a hilariously pompous entrance that had us all laughing. That’s the thing about this production, even in the midst of some tragic situations, there were little bits of comic relief that were excellently done. At two points, I believe, I smelled incense – which was a very nice touch.

The Broken Heart is a complex tale of hidden identities, tragic love, unhappiness that leads to starvation, revenge, murder, and the fulfilment of a Delphic prophecy.

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By the time the intermission came, I had only one thing to say:

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The ending had two quite violent and bloody events, which I found rather shocking (in a good way).

Wise Tecnicus, thus said he:
‘When youth is ripe, and age from time doth part
The lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart.’
‘Tis here fulfilled.

To understand what that means, you’ll have to read the play or come see it!

Every single one of the performers was excellent, and each brought their characters to life in a ways I haven’t seen in some time. I didn’t look at the cast list at all before I booked, and I’m glad I did this because I was pleasantly surprised to see some actors I recognised from their work in television and films, including Patrick Godfrey and Owen Teale.

For me, however, Luke Thompson as Ithocles really stole the show in the scenes he was in. My eyes were glued to him every time he was on stage not only because of his strong stage presence, but because of his gestures, his voice, his facial expressions. Based on what I saw today I’m willing to bet he will be a major actor in the future.

Before leaving, I enjoyed a little bit of shopping at the Globe gift shop. I bought a book containing Ford’s plays, two Shakespeare cookies, a couple of postcards, and a book “The Castrato and his Wife”.

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So now I am back home, the scent of incense still lingering in my hair, and the memories of today’s entertainment shall stay with me forever.

5/5 Must-see.

THE BROKEN HEART 12 March – 18 April
Written by John Ford

Tickets
£10 standing
£25 – £45 seats
£60 premium tickets

To get your tickets, please go to Shakespeare’s Globe.

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