REVIEW: HER ACHING HEART (The Hope Theatre) ★★★★★


“Oh what a day! Oh what a wind of hope blows through the echoing corridors of my breast! Rattling at the knobs and knockers of the doors to my dry and dusty emotions!” And so begins this superb, touching, gothic silliness.

There is a romantic literature, specifically written for women, that is not quite pornographic but still offers certain vicarious thrills. Sometimes known generically as “Mills and Boon” type stories and sometimes, if historic in nature, “bodice rippers”. Her Aching Heart is a gothic musical parody of the latter. It is hilariously funny and, let us admit it, more than a little erotically charged as well.

The songs which the two women sing during the production are excellent with lyrics that are funny and wonderfully outrageous. The music is tuneful and in perfect sync with the nature of the story.

Two women; one a beautiful posh spoilt lady, Harriet, from the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ set. The other is also beautiful (of course, this is after all Mills and Boon country), but is a sweet, innocent, animal loving g’al called Molly, from a distinctly lower class, country background.

The two characters first meet during a fox hunt, when Molly rescues, and subsequently refuses give back, the poor fox. Harriet is outraged and berates Molly. No sign at this point on how their relationship is going to develop.

Though at first angry with Molly, later the “love that dare not speak its name” hits Harriet like a bolt of lightning. She seems amazed that she should fall in love with someone from a lower social cast and the same gender. The feelings are eventually reciprocated by the innocent, Molly. Sapphic tomfoolery (to quote the play’s excellent program) then commences.

Don’t expect anything even slightly blue, because everything is done in the best possible taste. Well, except some of the song lyrics of course. There are in fact seven excellent songs, sung by Molly and Harriet, with names such as “In Love Again” and “In Spring – Hearts Mend”.

Collette Eaton who plays the posh, spoiled Harriet is a very experienced actress with a fine voice and a certain, indefinable something about her. Her, over the top, upper class, shrill, speaking voice, is by itself worth the cost of the ticket. In her restrictive tight wasted dress and severe red lipstick, she is a dream.

Naomi Todd who plays the country girl Molly is also wonderful. She is both funny and beautiful. Lately the majority of Naomi’s work seems to have been in the world of voice overs. What a waste of those spine tingling good looks. She also does a lovely, sexy but innocent, West Country, drawl.

Special mentions to the brilliant writer Bryony Lavery, the composer of the excellent and so apt music, Ian Brandon and the director Matthew Parker. Pats on the back all round, wonderfully done.

The Hope Theatre was a perfect venue from the audiences’ perspective. They are so near the action that the actress’ crinoline dresses brush against you as they enter and leave the stage. The studio theatre has just fifty seats and is located above the traditional Anchor Pub. The fifty people in the audience on the 1st of December were very appreciative of the show and rightly gave it plenty of enthusiastic applause.

Do go and see this engaging, saucy show if you can, before it finishes on the 23rd December. You will not be disappointed. Not for children or those who might be offended by two beautiful girls verbally expressing their gentle sapphic nature.

Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Roy Tan