Broken Hearted

Lucy Gannon
Derby LIVE
Derby Theatre
(2010)

Publicity photo

It's twenty years since Lucy Gannon, creator of highly successful television series Soldier Soldier, Peak Practice and Bramwell, wrote for the stage. So some theatregoers were intrigued, expectant and even excited about the world premiere of Broken Hearted.

A few months ago the playwright spoke about being nervous at the prospect of returning to the stage after such a long time. In the programme for Broken Hearted, the Derbyshire writer goes on to explain how she took a one-act play which had been sitting on a shelf and turned it into her latest work.

She concludes, "If you come to the theatre, you'll find out if it was all a horrible mistake or a worthwhile attempt."

I don't think anyone who sees Broken Hearted will regard it as anything but a worthwhile attempt - yet it lacks the depth and originality which would turn it into a huge success.

However, there's plenty to commend in the production which is well acted, cleverly presented and sensitively directed by Derby LIVE's artistic producer Pete Meakin.

Broken Hearted is the story of Nancy, a down-to-earth bistro owner who has to come to terms with a nightmare scenario: the disappearance of her lover who's missing, presumed dead, after a surfing accident on his stag do in Woolacombe.

Kathryn Hunt, well-known for her role as Angela Harris in Coronation Street, gives such a fitting performance as Nancy that you think Lucy Gannon might have had her in mind when she wrote the play.

Hunt makes Nancy appear real, a woman who loves life and has great feelings for those around her but can't resist complaining about people who get in the way, especially old couples who've "reached incontinence and senility together".

Her passion for Eddie is matched by her refusal to say anything disrespectful about him after he goes missing - and also by her contempt for him when he unexpectedly turns up a few months later.

There's an exciting rapport between Hunt and Thomas Craig who plays Eddie. That's hardly surprising when you realise he played her husband Tommy Harris in Coronation Street for more than three years. Craig is totally convincing as a man who acts without thinking and then struggles to undo the consequences.

It's good to see Derbyshire actor Steven Blakeley back on a stage in his home city. Last year he gave a fine performance as Benedick in the Derby LIVE Much Ado About Nothing production and he's equally impressive in Broken Hearted as bistro worker Will. His timing is excellent and his face is full of expression; he's turning into an accomplished comic actor.

There's good support from Sophie-Louise Dann as the slightly wacky Mo and Gillian Axtell as Nancy's overbearing, yappy mother Kay.

There are some really funny lines but the first quarter of the play seems too bogged down by the trivialities of life in the bistro. Thankfully there's a major gear change when it's revealed that Eddie is missing, tension and poignancy being injected into the production.

The second half is more enjoyable as Gannon analyses how resentment and hate turn to forgiveness and reconciliation. The ending, however, is fairly predictable.

Gannon proclaims in the programme that writing for the theatre is a "hiding to nothing" because it "wouldn't matter if it was the most amazing piece of drama ever because if no one comes to see it, it will be a flop." Broken Hearted isn't the most amazing piece of drama - but despite the small number of people in the audience the night I attended, it certainly isn't a flop either.

"Broken Hearted" runs until Saturday, May 29th

Reviewer: Steve Orme