Thursday, 25 January 2007

Her Aching Heart, Jan 25, 2007

Her Aching Heart 
by Bryony Lavery by Wishing Well Productions
La Mama, Wed to Sun, Jan 25 to Feb 11, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Her Aching Heart, by Bryony Lavery, is an historical bodice-ripper with a twist; the romantic couple, separated by social class, is two women.

 Lady Harriet Helstone (Madeleine Swain) is “wilful, spoiled and impetuous”, a, feisty, unmarried young woman riding her horse, Thunder, to hounds and living on her family property in Cornwall. Lady Harriet bullies her maid, taunts her suitors and treats the peasants as chattels.

Although just as opinionated and stubborn, Molly Penhallow (Helen Katerelos) is a tender-hearted, educated peasant girl who rescues a fox from the hunt, revives a dying bird and resuscitates a battered peasant.

Lavery’s script lacks the complexity and skill of her award-winning play, Frozen, but it is a cheerful parody of Victorian melodrama. Each scene has a title scrawled on a series of flip cards and introduced by the on-stage musician (Ben Kiley). Interwoven with the historical romance is a contemporary love story between a modern couple, also called Harriet and Molly. This story is coloured by modern and original love songs that are generally discordant with the period story.

Swain captures particularly well the histrionic acting style of the melodrama and her peasant Granny and Yokel are very funny. Her Lady Harriet is a strapping young thing and Swain revels in her egotistical posturing and her florid, poetic language.

Katerelos’ strength is in her singing but her Molly Penhallow is an effective combination of sweetness and spitfire. She does a fine rendition of a languorous ballad, Gave It Up Loving.

Director, Sarah McCusker, keeps scene changes swift by having the women changing costumes and characters on stage. The set is minimal: a rack of clothing and a framework that serves as an upright bed, various tapestries and a Christian crucifix.

The main flaw in this production and script is the awkward threading of the modern love story with the historical romance. The two modern women are reading Her Aching Heart, Lady Harriet’s story, and both act as narrators. However, their own meetings, dating, separation, jealousies and love story are not drawn in any detail so we have little attachment to them. The two styles of naturalism and melodrama do not dovetail successfully.

There are some great belly laughs, particularly from Lady Harriet’s snobbish rantings and the parody makes it a fun night’s entertainment.

By Kate Herbert

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