I hate feeling like the bad guy but honestly, I can’t even begin to fathom why we would bring a show over from Melbourne for Perth Pride that’s as disappointing as Her Aching Heart. I mean, why pay for another State’s dire theatre? Can’t we do our own? I guess not. Perth is not such an artistic backwater after-all methinks, if this is what’s going on over in Melbourne.
Her Aching Heart was written almost 20 years ago, and is an attempt at a fusion of contemporary and period drama, staged as a parody (of pantomimic proportions) of the latter. Why stage an English play steeped in middle-class stereotypes of class and gender at a contemporary Australian Pride festival? I have no idea. I suppose the point of the script is to take a satirical leftist dig at romantic fiction, resplendent with all of its heaving bosoms and feigning swoons. A good idea, but not executed at all well (at the script or production level); it turning out merely ho hum in the end.
The plot is simple enough. Two modern women, Harriet (Madeleine Swain) and Molly (Ruth Katerelos), are separately reading the same weighted historical lesbian drama about an aristocrat with giant (and yes, heaving) bosoms called Lady Harriet and a Snow White-esque peasant girl named Molly. The drama comes to life, of course, and we follow the rather Gothic adventures of Lady Harriet and Molly as they discover their latent homosexuality and mutual attraction. Meanwhile, Harriet and Molly begin their own tentative romance. Very near the end of the play, modern-day Harriet confesses that she never finished the book because it was too annoying (what with all that ridiculous moon waning and swooning going on), and I found myself wondering why on earth, then, the audience had to be subjected to a lengthy (and tedious) revue of the book’s goings-on if the main protagonist couldn’t even get through it?
The thing about farce is that if it isn’t done well, it’s cringe-worthy. Swain and Katerelos did an admirable job playing four characters each, but much more could have been made of this, a shortfall which ultimately comes down to the direction. There were times where the audience was left to stare at a blank stage while listening to one actress play two characters behind a curtain. This is not creative directing. Watching an actor play two characters at once, when done well (to wit, BSX’s recent The Caucasian Chalk Circle), is far more entertaining than an empty stage.
Swain was the saving grace of Her Aching Heart. Her performance skills are outstanding and she truly grasped the concept of historical farce. Katerelos’ stronger singing vocals were unfortunately not enough to save her sing-song line delivery in the period pieces, which greatly detracted from the sense of what she was saying.
Every decent farce needs decent sound, and this was another weak point that could have easily been corrected. The sound volume was way too low and so all of the scenes that needed high energy (such as chase scenes), fell flat despite the actors’ best efforts. The set was too sparse for the large space and the props, although intentionally ridiculous, needed a spruce-up.
For the most part, the 90% lesbian crowd received Her Aching Heart well. There wasn’t the raucous laughter that farce should deliver, but there were enough laughs to suggest that it was enjoyed. However, with lines like “He would have wed, bed, and blood-shedded me”, I doubt there was anything that truly gave any contemporary lesbian cause for reflection. I honestly don’t see what’s so liberal about deconstructing romantic fiction in such an obvious way. Especially since the sentimental modern-day Harriet/Molly storyline that bookends the play (and which we’re supposed to take at face-value as a touching ‘will they, won’t they?’ blossoming romance) smothers any bite the rest of the play might have had in its attempt to satirise romantic fiction.
WishingWell Productions present
Her Aching Heart
Venue: PICA, Perth Cultural Centre, James Street Northbridge
Dates: Tuesday 7th - Saturday 11th of October
Bookings: $25/20 - www.pica.org.au or 08 9228 6300