Photo © 2016 Roy Tan
A successful playwright for the past 40 years, Bryony Lavery needs little introduction. While her plays often have underlying feminist themes and rich in female roles, Lavery's Her Aching Heart (which was originally written in 1992) is a light-hearted affair, perfect for this time of year.
Directed by Matthew Parker, Her Aching Heart is a two-hander that jumps back and forth between the reality of the here and now, and the 18th century world of the eponymous novel. Playing lovers on and off the page, the course of true love doesn't run smooth for Harriet (Colette Eaton) and Molly (Naomi Todd), with life mirroring literature and vice versa.
Within the world of the novel, Harriet is a haughty member of the aristocracy who like the rest of her class, indulges in foxhunting and a firm believer in the Ancien Régime. She is, however, an independent woman who resists her family’s wishes to marry her off to a suitor of another affluent family. Molly, meanwhile, is a 'commoner' and loves everything to do with nature. The one thing she has in common with Harriet is an indomitable spirit and a dislike for being told what to do or how to behave...
The Hope Theatre is an intimate venue and while musicals aren’t a rarity there (Hello Again and The House of Usher spring to mind) the quality of Eaton’s and Todd’s singing voices are all the more impressive in such closed quarters. It has to be said that Eaton’s Harriet has a deliciously plummy accent ripe for satire, while the array of comic ‘high-born’ and ‘low-born’ characters that litter the play are evocative in the possible way of the colourful characters found in sitcoms such as Blackadder III.
Ever since Jane Austen penned Northanger Abbey, the Gothic novel has been ripe for parody and satire, and Lavery’s show under Parker’s deft direction has fashioned a feel-good hit that is both familiar and ‘fresh’. Running for two hours, Her Aching Heart is great value, guaranteed to make you laugh from beginning to end and a labour of love for all involved. So if you like your festive shows to have double entendres with the frisson of Sarah Waters' Tipping The Velvet, you know where to go.
© Michael Davis 2016
Her Aching Heart runs at the Hope Theatre until 23rd December 2016.