Hope Theatre, London – until 23 December 2016
It might be more of a ‘play with songs’ than a full blown musical but Bryony Lavery’s Her Aching Heart now playing at the Hope Theatre, is one of those rarely performed gems that displays just the sort of quirky wit in its writing that many of today’s new musical offerings could do well to emulate.
The time-hopping two-hander sees Colette Eaton and Naomi Todd play contemporary women Harriet and Molly who are both reading the faux bodice-ripper Her Aching Heart and who fall in love as the evening pans out.
What gives the show such glorious heart however, is how Eaton and Todd drop in an out of a range of characters in the novel they are engrossed in, as lesbian passions smoulder both on and off the page. The fiction within a fiction is wonderfully pastiched and amongst the Mills and Boon clichés of its Gothic romance there are nosings of Austen, D H Lawrence and even a hint of Oscar Wilde. The songs are well pitched too, with Ian Brandon having written new melodies for Lavery’s now 25 year old text and lyrics.
Both performers are beautifully voiced and equally matched, with Harriett’s solo Good Manners along with the duetted It’s Spring – Hearts Mend being perhaps the musical highlights. Producer Andrea Leoncini has invested thought into his creative team. Anthony Whiteman’s modest choreography enhances the work, Rachael Ryan’s designs are amusingly kitsch and imaginative, while Alex Payne’s fight direction of a full blown sword fight is as wonderfully overplayed as it is thrilling!
Unpretentious and never taking itself too seriously, Her Aching Heart represents much of what makes London’s fringe theatre scene so rich and wonderful.