Monday, 12 December 2016

REVIEW: Her Aching Heart at The Hope Theatre

Celebrating with a magnificent revival the 25th anniversary of Bryony Lavery's Her Aching Heart, The Hope Theatre and producer Andrea Leoncini found the cutest way to welcome their audience. After arriving at the box office, I was offered my ticket attached to a programme by a pin with a heart-shaped head. This little surprise made up for having to wait for the opening of the auditorium in the busy Hope and Anchor pub on the ground floor, which can be quite noisy but is also the best place to grab a quick drink during the interval.

Her Aching Heart is the cheesy account of a fortuitous encounter between two women, which are immediately stricken by an uncontrolled crush for each other. Nor the apparent mutual hatred, nor the social inequality, not even the geographical distance can part what love has joined, as demonstrated by a range of episodes presented in this tongue-and-cheek extravaganza. The peasant and the noble lady’s adventures are told in parallel with that of two other women, who discover a fancy for each other whilst reading the same book.

This two-hander 'Mills & Boon’ pastiche lives up to its promise of sapphic tomfoolery and gothic silliness, and is delivered with energy and a delightful music accompaniment originally written by Ian Brandon. Harriet’s (Colette Eaton) opening song ‘Uninvited’ is a sensual melody, aptly staged in a boudoir with red velvet curtains.

The direction is meticulously handled by The Hope Theatre’s own artistic director Matthew Parker, with a meaningful body language, cheeky pauses and recurring innuendos. Both Colette Eaton and Naomi Todd (the latter in the role of Molly) regale the public with an excellent performance and have the stamina necessary to consistently deliver their ever-changing roles throughout the two-hour running time. Continuous costume changes and set alterations are carried by the two actresses with absolute ease, thanks to Rachael Ryan’s functional yet beautiful design. Every outfit detail is taken into account and the use of the front and back-stage is cleverly combined with a uniform presence on all the available space around the audience, allowing them to keep the momentum going.

Sound and lighting provide an essential backbone to the development of the story, with mutating shades of colour to establish the mood and occasional voice-overs to support the monologues. I only wish there was a live soundtrack – maybe a dynamic piano accompaniment – to make the show even more captivating!

Occasionally, Her Aching Heart is under the weather of Lavery’s lengthy script, overloaded with subtle puns and a pompous speech, but the remarkable production values and a truly amusing plot make it an extraordinary piece of comedy unique in its genre.

Photos by Roy Tan 

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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