The Broken Heart, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, review: Ghoulish tragedy but with a sardonic touch

Director Caroline Steinbeis injects a lighter tone

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The Independent Culture

Poor John Ford. As if Shakespeare wasn't a hard enough act to follow, the Jacobean playwright now has to follow a performance by the all-conquering Mark Rylance who starred in the previous production on the Globe's interior candle-lit stage. And as always with Shakespeare's near contemporaries, revivals show up the gap between them and the Bard.

Ford sets his neglected tragedy in ancient Sparta where, not unlike Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, a bonkers brother (Luke Thompson) irrationally interferes with his sister's love life. She (Amy Morgan) is forced to marry Owen Teale's pious and insanely jealous prig Bassanes, a union whose unhappiness spreads to almost all connected to them, even to Sparta's ravishing heir to the throne Princess Calantha (Sarah MacRae) who owns and dies of the title's broken heart.

Moments such as that, and the ice cold killing that avenges the wronged sister, keeps Ford's play firmly within the realms of ghoulish tragedy. However, rising director Caroline Steinbeis rather brilliantly injects language accustomed to operatic emoting with a light sardonic touch, allowing so much comedy to be wrought that the tragedy comes as a thumping shock, particularly that Brian Ferguson's likeable and lovelorn Orgilus could be so steeped in blood lust.

Runs until April 18