Heartbeat, currently on a national tour, arrives at the Richmond Theatre to open arms. ITV’s iconic television show ran for 18 years and is based on the novels by Nicholas Rhea. It is surprising that only now it is reimagined for stage by David Graham and Keith Myers. However, is the production successful in bringing the swinging sixties to the millennials?
Judy Reeves set design of the Yorkshire Moors doesn’t quite fit the surroundings of this grand Victorian theatre, nor does it match the realism of Aidensfield. All that is used to create a sense of the landscape is a strip of astroturf and flowers attached to the front of the stage. The technique of using projection screens to try and capture the the essence of a rural village, as well posting images of the post office and shop, which flicker on the back screen throughout does not achieve the desired effect. Perhaps the screens are being used for the sole purpose of mimicking the opening credits and recreating the sensation of watching the series on television? With the possibility of projection being used in productions in amazingly imaginative ways, it’s a shame Reeves does not use this medium to full it’s full advantage to their full as at moments the screens felt in the way of the action.
However, at the front of the stage, Reeves does manage to recreate the Aidensfield Arms which is where most of the action is set; similar to the TV show. Although the bar is quite small for the Richmond Theatre, the attention to detail including the working taps, helps bring authenticity to the set.
It can be difficult to match audience’s expectations of these classic characters, but the strong ensemble, particularly David Lonsdale and Steven Blakely; (who are a great comic duo as PC Geoff Younger and David Stockwell ) make the the well loved and familiar characters their own. Carly Cook’s debut as Gina Bellamy is uncanny in her portrayal of her vivacious character and she enables the audience to fully experience the sixties in Aidensfield. Callum O’Neill adds depth to the storyline as Aiden McGuire, an Irish political activist, which reflects the changing times and the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Britain during that period.
Jason Griffiths rich portrayal of James Sheedy, a cocky, cockney sudo-undercover cop, enhances the element of suspense and crime, though his deceitfulness is no match to the “Bobby on the Beat” PC Joe Malton (Matt Milburn). Erin Geraghty as Annie Beck, epitomizes a busybody, usually found in the imagination in small rural villages exceedingly well. Opening the production, she is fixing up the pub from the mischief of the previous night and she introduces a note of humour from the start as she tries to communicate with Bernie Scripps (David Horne) by explaining the opening hours on Sundays. Unfortunately for the audience, the lack of development in the character of Bernie restricted Horne’s abilities to reach his full potential. This is noticeable at times as the character seemed to have a lack of motive in the production.
All the actors’ experience of screen work is evident especially their ability to interpret David Lonsdale’s script and Keith Myers direction. Although, the transitions were at times not slick enough to keep the audience on their toes and fully absorbed in the plot. The staging lost the urgency of particular scenes, especially the hostage scene and you never knew if the characters were off stage or not. Perhaps touring theatre is not the most appropriate vehicle for this play. A longer run would enable the cast to become familiar with the dimensions of the stage and consequently be able to use it more effectively.
Did I feel as though I could have been part of the swinging sixties when the closing curtain comes down? No, but I did feel a part of Heartbeat’s legacy; as though I are one of the regulars.
Heartbeat is playing at Richmond Theatre until Saturday 25 June. For more information and tickets, see Richmond Theatre website.