Another transformative space, The Hope Theatre is compact but also a blank canvas. From my last visit, again the stage is completely different. 3 sections of chairs semi-circle the stage which has minimal setting and a large curtain behind.
‘Her Aching Heart’ sees the cross over story from present day to the days of Victorian gothic romance novels. However there is a twist. There are no Mr Rochester’s’ or Colin Firth striding in drenched in pond water – this story has strong female leads and strong romantic love between the two of them.
Picking up on the nonsensical opinions of the time in comparison to now, ‘Her Aching Heart’ is comical in creating 1 dimensional characters and highlighting these with costuming and casting – The Lady of the Manor type character of Harriet (played by Colette Eaton) is all full of pomp and circumstance – beginning rude, obnoxious and playing upon the upper class stereotype, her being dressed in dark colours and casting a brunette is clever with the contrast to the opposing character. Molly (played by Naomi Todd) is a blonde, innocent and by all means perfect peasant girl, who very much like Snow White, attracts creatures and humans alike and revives them with her pure goodness. She is mostly dressed in white and pinks to enhance her innocence. Both actresses do brilliantly well to be humorous and to play to these stereotypes. The costuming and casting choices are also brought into the ‘present day’ scenarios, despite these modern characters being more likeable and naturalistic.
The production in hammed up, over the top and melodramatic – and this is all good. The idea of enhancing these ridiculous aspects makes the musical comical and contrasting to the era change. The play is clever in making it seem amateur and with this, the polished production is anything but. Original music and composition is used which is funny, witty and provides breaks between the scenes. The only negative I could give is that it is notable that one singer is more prominent than the other – Eaton has a more husky, attention grabbing voice and is able to adjust to fill the room but not blast us out the door – reminiscent to me of a character you would find in Chicago. This is not to say that Todd is not good – she has a wonderful musical theatre-esque take to her voice, her songs and approach to these reminding me much of Wicked and tells the tale well; the voices are just so different that in harmonies and song after another, Todd seems to get a little lost in the space and this is unfortunate for such a wonderful performer.
Her Aching Heart is comedic, clever and certainly worth a watch. Pushing the boundaries of what we know about gothic romance novels and the heterosexuality of them – writer Bryony Lavery has certainly taken a great concept and ran with it.