HER ACHING HEART REVIEW
Opening on a dark stage with a mournful torch song about heartbreak was not the opening I was expecting from a lesbian musical pastiche of gothic romance novels, but this was not the only surprise in a delightful and light-hearted evening which included a strong willed aristocrat hell-bent on getting her own way, a winsome peasant girl whose very touch heals a variety of injured woodland creatures, some rural peasants, a fop, some nuns, the French revolution and some sword fighting, all wrapped up in the kind of “throw everything at it” plot that will be familiar to anyone who has read and loved historical romance novels.
In Lady Harriet Hellstone (ably played with a comic stridence by Collette Eaton) we have the first stereotype of a leading lady – a headstrong independent woman waiting to be tamed by love. To her surprise (of course) Lady Harriet finds herself confused, curious and then won over by the Disney-like goodness of rustic innocent Molly (Naomi Todd, who plays Molly with a knowing wink to the audience), who is beloved of everyone and just waiting to be awakened by love. These two characters, both highly recognisable to fans of romance novels, soon meet and fall in love, committing some accidental murders and injuring a surprising number of woodland creatures along the way. The story flits from a woodland glade, to a Georgian country house, to a eighteenth century French prison, cleverly created by our two actresses with just a few stage props and some clever costume changes. In act two the pace of the plot increases as Harriet finds herself in revolutionary France and Molly ends up in a convent (complete with flashing neon cross) before finding each other again in a satisfying ending.
Both actresses fulfil their many roles with imagination and feeling in a play which is a loving send-up of a type of novel often dismissed as nonsense, and while there is a lot of very enjoyable silliness throughout this play it is also a reminder of the joy and seriousness of falling in love, highlighted by the framing story of Harriet and Molly, who are reading of the exploits at Hellstone Hall as they fall in love with each other in the real world. While no one (least of all the cast) make the mistake of taking the feather-light plot too seriously, the enthusiasm with which they perform is infectious and the evening flies past, leaving us not with aching hearts but joyful ones!