Pros: An abundance of alliteration, insatiable innuendos, lots of laughs and hilarious heroines.
Cons: Soft toy abuse and a sometimes frenetic pace.
A pub theatre seemed a fitting venue for a raunchy Mills and Boon parody. A slightly sozzled Friday night audience would be the best group to respond to the sexually fraught narrative of Harriet and Molly: two characters who journey through The Throes of Modern Courtship and step out of reality into the pages of the Gothic novel Her Aching Heart.
The Hope Theatre is small, so it lent itself to this intimate (in all senses of the word) play with a small cast. Its small space meant caused some front row anxiety; at times I thought I was about to receive an impromptu lap dance or a whip to the face, but adorned with blood-red velvet curtains and little else, the theatre felt appropriately sleazy. Her Aching Heart was impressively staged in its minimalism. Particular props (I can’t help but think in puns after this show) to the Lighting Designer, Tom Kitney, for making a small space feel bigger; the deceptively simple technical set-up helped to separate the many scene changes.
Collette Eaton as Harriet was a husky tour-de-force and Naomi Todd, playing Molly, had the charm of a Carry On character mixed with a character straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Both actors played myriad parts with well paced humour. At times the ferocity of their Gothic alter-egos was overwhelming and it became hard to keep up with the quick-fire innuendos. The characters were driven by a sexual frustration which reached its peak in the first act and stayed at a high level for most of the production. The pace was restored to an extent with the modern love story: Eaton and Todd had lovely chemistry and they switched from their highly strung fictional heroines to identifiable contemporary lovers in an aching heartbeat.
The musical numbers provided a welcome break from the intensity and added depth to the production. The songs were a sincere relief from the sea of silliness. The physicality of the show was also impressive; the ‘love-making’ scene was choreographed with all the delicacy of Swan Lake. This came as a hilarious resolution after the prolonged thigh-rubbing and whip-stroking that had suggested a passionate corset-tearing scene wasn’t off the cards.
Bryony Lavery’s script, now 25 years old, has stood the test of time. This production added its own nuances which kept the content relevant and the script alive (watch out for an indiscreetly placed reference to a witch-related musical). A couple of hours of all-round great fun, the Hope Theatre’s version of Her Aching Heart took on the challenges of ‘obvious jokes’ and a small performance space with skill and moments of ingenuity.
Cold showers provided post-show (no, not really!).
Author: Bryony Lavery
Director: Matthew Parker
Composer: Ian Brandon
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: www.thehopetheatre.com
Booking Until: 23 December 2016