David Lonsdale
David Graham Entertainment Ltd in conjunction with ITV
Grand Theatre, Blackpool

David Horne, Matt Milburn, David Lonsdale and Steven Blakeley in Heartbeat Credit: Andrew Billington

This first-ever stage adaptation of the popular TV series achieves all the comedy-drama rhythm of Heartbeat, but needs some urgent cardiac massage on its staging.

It’s highly unusual, nowadays, for productions to run with anything less than smooth set design and effects, but just about everything that could go wrong on its première opening night does just that. Projected backdrop images flicker, or change mid-scene; background music swamps actors’ voices; lighting cues get out of synch, so what might have been shadows in which stagehands stealthily move scenery become incriminating spotlights; and a stage revolve also seems to have a slowly-moving life force, and lighting design, all of its own.

This carries the key piece of scenery that alternates between the village pub bar, or exterior backdrops and with more than 20 scene changes its gets in more spins than the '60s soundtrack that was the signature of Heartbeat.

No-one would expect a theatrical version to be as smoothly staged as the TV original but production company David Graham Entertainment Ltd has, in the recent past, achieved skilful transitions for Dinnerladies, Keeping Up Appearances, Birds of a Feather and Rising Damp. If their latest is to survive its 15-week national tour then some surgery is in order.

All of which reflects even greater credit on its 10-strong cast and the skilful writing of David Lonsdale. Between them all they juggle the broad comedy and narrow melodrama that sees Lonsdale, as village eejit David Stockwell, and Steven Blakeley (PC Geoff Younger) re-create their on-screen comedy double act. Both get first appearance applause from an audience keen to indulge their nostalgia.

The laughs flow easily, if not always where planned, and sometimes even amidst a darker sub-plot involving an Irish republican on the run.

Hollyoaks pin-up Matt Milburn fills the police-issue boots that former Eastenders star Nick Berry made his own in the fictional Yorkshire dales hamlet of Aidensfield. Life there always remained frozen in some sort of reassuring Carry On Dixon of Ambridge setting, and once Heartbeat has had shock therapy it may well have a preserved life of its own.

Reviewer: David Upton

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