REVIEW: Her Aching Heart, Hope Theatre ✭✭

Last Updated on 6th December 2016

Her Aching Heart at the Hope Theatre
Colette Eaton and Naomi Todd. Photo: Roy Tan

Her Aching Heart
Hope Theatre
1 December 2016
2 Stars
Book Tickets

I keep going to see plays by Bryony Lavery, in the hope of discovering what people see in them. I’ve not yet found out. Last year, I sat through her solemn, plodding re-writing of ‘Treasure Island’ at the National, and now I have spent a couple of hours studying the rag-bag collection of would-be comic sketches that is the ‘script’ of this thing.

The nicest thing you can say about this production is that it’s got a lovely set. Rachal Ryan has created a red plush boudoir for the interior of the minute Hope Theatre, even creating ‘wings’, and curtains that can be opened and closed, as well as ‘flies’: it is a miracle of miniaturisation. At one point, a book is even flown in from above (a trope – like so many in this production – that, once used, is simply forgotten and not given any structural point). She also provides the magnificent array of costumes. However, Ryan’s coherent visual language is the sole completely reliable pleasure in the presentation. We probably have director Matthew Parker to thank for this choice: he should be congratulated on it. If only he’d been as fortunate in his other decisions.

Her Aching Heart at the Hope Theatre
Colette Eaton and Naomi Todd. Photo: Roy Tan

There are songs. By Ian Brandon. We get one very early on. It is sung in a cod-American accent that seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the production. So, why is it – and the others – there? We never find out. There is also choreography, by Anthony Whiteman, but it doesn’t get much of a chance to take flight in this tiny, crowded space. The cast of two, Colette Eaton and Naomi Todd, adopt a variety of accents, some more secure than others, as the basic narrative moves from one stock situation to another, and they usually seem happiest when embracing cliches to express the two-dimensional characters they are compelled to represent. However, tellingly, when asked to pick up phones and speak into them naturalistically, their voices relax and they become – fleetingly – real and pleasant to listen to. Sadly, these telephonic interruptions are few and far between, and for the rest of the time, we are made to listen to crassly broad and flat declamations of the pallid text that quickly become wearisome and irritating.

But what is the ‘journey’ these characters are on? One minute in the hear-and-now, the next plunged into the arch removes of the nineteenth century, and then back again. Where is this text going? And why? I was at a total loss to answer those questions.

Bodice-ripping is promised to us, but I didn’t see any such thing happen here. In fact, we crawled through two hours of humming and hahing before the gals finally got to a belaboured kiss. If you are going to this show believing the show’s advertising, then you are going to be disappointed. Stay home and watch ‘Poldark’.

Her Aching Heart at the Hope Theatre
Naomi Todd. Photo: Roy Tan

Next, in the line of unfulfilled promises, is the ‘gothic’ element. Where was it? That red plush? Is that it? Really? No abandoned or ruined castle; no supernatural interference; no hobgoblins; no mysterious relatives, or legacies, or anything, really, to chill the blood or stir the darker, unexplored corners of the human psyche. Well, why would one go looking for any such thing in a play by this author? I don’t think she knows what depth is. Stay home and watch ‘Carry On Screaming’.

‘Sapphic tomfoolery’ is next on the advertiser’s menu. Well, as indicated already, this is hardly ‘The Killing of Sister George’, much less ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’. This is rather the kind of stuff that used to get done in Islington rooms above pubs in the 1980s, usually in 15-minute slots, strung together by patter from a Right-On Politically-Correct Comperess. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s where most of the material originated. It has the same rough-shod impromptu feeling of any of those hurriedly devised stand-up skits and about as much merit. Stay home and read ‘The Cookery Book of Alice B. Toklas’.

As harmless, seasonal larking about goes, this show is an undemanding couple of hours: if you go to it with an abundant admiration of the author and/or subject matter, you may have your enthusiasm rewarded. If not, prepare to encounter problems.

Until 23 December 2016


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