Her Aching Heart
The Hope Theatre
The Hope Theatre and director Matthew Parker are to be congratulated for reviving ‘Her Aching Heart’, Bryony Lavery’s early 1990s satirical sapphic two-hander about the tropes of romantic historical fiction. With the paucity of lesbian characters on our stages, it is a treat to have such a knowingly playful piece staged.
The Hope Theatre’s small playing space is used effectively by designer Rachael Ryan, and Collette Eaton and Naomi Todd as Harriet, Molly and many other characters deal slickly with the myriad of props, costume changes and puppets they have to handle. The sound design, by Paul Freeman, is a particular highlight, helping not only to build a sense of atmosphere but also to fill out plot points and move scenes forward efficiently.
However in this production Lavery’s tight, poetic writing is often overwhelmed by relentless physical comedy, and her subtleties sometimes lost to garbled delivery. When the performers do get a chance to play it ‘straight’ through their modern day characters, the tone and pace noticeably softens. Eaton and Todd are confident actors, and their chemistry and warmth towards the audience ensure that there are some welcome moments of tenderness amidst the bustle. On the whole though Parker’s production feels overblown, swamping Lavery’s imagery and the dark, violent, political themes within it for an increasingly wearing and repetitive reliance on broad physical comedy. Despite the overtly lesbian content and the unfulfilled promise of ‘bodice-ripping’ on the advertising material, this production is disappointingly vanilla, and ultimately feels more Gruffalo than Tipping the Velvet at times.
©NP for LGBTQ Arts 2016