Her Aching Heart review at the Hope Theatre, London – ‘hare-brained historical lesbian romp’
The festive period offers the perfect excuse for theatres not participating in pantomime to indulge in their own silly season.
Bryony Lavery’s 1991 play (it’s more like a series of sketches) with music Her Aching Heart, a parody of romantic potboilers with a Sapphic twist, is as silly as silly can be, and surely an acquired taste. In theory, it’s a tribute to the way in which fiction, however trashy, can bring people together, as two young women embark on a tentative romance while reading the same historical lesbian romance. In a vaguely Romantic-period setting, the wilful, bloodthirsty Lady Harriet and sweetness-and-light, animal-healing village wench Molly meet cute during a fox hunt, and anyone who knows their Pride and Prejudice will sense more than disgust smouldering under the surface.
Matthew Parker’s deliberately scrappy, ‘poor theatre’ production has some amusing touches, especially the swordfight involving swinging from chandeliers. However, the modern framing device barely registers and the songs add little, apart from the uplifting first act finale number.
Collette Eaton and Naomi Todd are energetic, capable performers but the characters are so one-note and make for trying company for two hours with all the flouncing, pouting and looking supercilious, and there isn’t much of a frisson between them.
Opening with a rip-off of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca only invites unflattering comparisons. My heart ached more for the adorable fox puppet and mutilated Bambi plush toy than for any of the human characters – thought-provoking theatre this is not, nor is it cutting-edge pastiche.