"I love her"
The Hope Theatre's Gothic Season winds to a close with a slightly more positive take on the genre - festive-gothic perhaps - in Bryony Lavery's Her Aching Heart. A pastiche of Gothic literature in which modern day Harriet and Molly find themselves both reading the same lesbian bodice-ripper novel, it just so happens the main characters are called Lady Harriet Helstone and Molly Penhallow, and so we see connections build between both their real and literary selves as they take the first steps in a putative relationship.
Directed by the Hope's AD Matthew Parker, the re-enactment scenes are quite frankly hilarious. Split into chapters with titles like 'A Nun Has A Nightmare', 'A Buxom Young Wench And A Sprightly Old Woman' and 'Thorns', the love/hate tug of war between village lass Molly and society lady Harriet is fast-paced and funny, with a tip of the hat, a wink of an eye and its tongue very much in cheek. They meet on a hunt when Molly tries to save the fox, played by a hand puppet, and once the broad and bawdy humour starts, it rarely relents.
Eaton and Todd also take on all the supporting characters of the story with great relish, from saucy maids to horny stableboys, but in the parallel story of the contemporary Harriet and Molly, there's something genuinely affecting. This is where Ian Brandon's score comes in, seven original songs that punctuate the silliness (whilst still mining the rom-com standard of having phones with impossibly long cords) and tracking their emotional journey from unhappiness into the hopefulness of new love. It may give people expecting a full-blown musical some pause but structurally, its a fascinating approach.
It's become something of a running joke, the apparently unshakable trope of dead lesbian syndrome but it isn't really that funny - the dearth of positive lesbian representation in popular culture is shameful really. And that's what makes Her Aching Heart so special in the end, the fact that it is a simple, uncomplicated love story at its heart. Yes it is universal but yes, it is also unashamedly all the shades of the LGBTQ+ rainbow - and as Parker gives us one final fabulous surprise at the last, my heart filled with pride. No wait, with Pride (it was World AIDS Day after all - do give what you can). A vital and vibrant alternative to all those pantomimes out there and hugely recommended.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Roy Tan
Booking until 23rd December