Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Her Aching Heart

Bryony Lavery
Hope Theatre
Hope Theatre

Naomi Todd as Molly Credit: Roy Tan
Glove puppet bemused by exaggerated performance style Credit: Roy Tan
Naomi Todd and Collette Eaton Credit: Roy Tan

Her Aching Heart by Bryony Lavery is an affectionate parody of the romantic novels of Mills and Boon first performed twenty-five years ago and given a new score by Ian Brandon for the Hope Theatre production.

Collette Eaton and Naomi Todd play a cast of male and female characters adopting two distinct performance styles. There is a naturalistic modern presentation of the brief encounters between Harriet (Collette Eaton) and Molly (Naomi Todd) who discover they are reading the same romantic novel. These are little more than a framing device for the physically and vocally exaggerated performance of the book’s contents which just happens to revolve around characters of the same name.

The plot is entirely predictable. An aristocrat hunting foxes meets and falls in love with a blonde-haired simple country girl Molly who is caught in some briars holding a frightened fox. She is then pursued through some sixteen torrid "chapters" which include a sword fight and the French Revolution till finally she admits her love for the aristocrat.

There is however one important deviation from the traditional genre convention. Both characters are women and this is a lesbian love story.

The back of the tiny performance space is draped in red velvet. Boards are hung to one side giving us the titles of the play’s "chapters" such as "Chapter Four. A buxom young wench and a sprightly old woman".

It begins in traditional mode with the wealthy Harriet Helstone describing how weary she is of "our rakish friends! How tired I am of rich and dissolute men! How fatigued I am with beautiful and powdered women!"

The gentle, unsophisticated Molly is a contrast that attracts her. But then Molly seems to have an impact on all living things, drawing to her small animals that are injured or hunted and bringing back to life a dead male aristocrat with a kiss. Being far too trusting, she usually hands the small animals over to other characters who kill them. The aristocrat manages to miss that fate.

The show is all pantomime stereotypes, light obvious humour and little to think about. Most of the audience laughed at such lines as, "you have my heart in your hands. That’s why you’ve got blood on your sleeve."

Who knows? Maybe it will win new audiences for Mills and Boon, especially if they hire Bryony Lavery to write a sequel to Her Aching Heart.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna