Good genre parody is harder to get right than it looks. It has to have an intimate familiarity with (and more often than not, palpable affection for) its source conventions, it has to know exactly what it is trying to do, and not least it has to be consistently, rompingly funny. This production of a gothic romance parody from 1992 by Bryony Lavery has the first part in spades, but loses its way on the second two – a shame, since it is evidently sweet-natured and well-meant.
The set-up is a fun twist on gothic novels ranging from Wuthering Heights to Rebecca: the love story at its heart is between an aristocratic lady (Colette Eaton) and a local peasant girl (Naomi Todd). The pair run through all the tropes of heaving bosoms, class distinctions, rides through the mist and so on – but have no idea how to express their feelings for each other. The idea of a lesbian bodice-ripper is a strong one, though it could use more satirical edge, or any edge at all. Possibly the problem lies with director Matthew Parker not quite having worked out what the piece is supposed to be.
It doesn’t help that the show is something of a musical, although I left not quite sure why. There’s an entire baffling modern sub-plot complete with largely forgettable songs that appears to be from a totally different show, the idea being that a couple in contemporary London are reading their way through the “novel” on which the show is based. In a style of theatre that desperately needs focus and certainty to keep us on board with the zany hi-jinks, this is a distraction that almost fatally undermines it.
That said, many of the conventions in the main plot are parodied with genuine invention and fun. Physical comedy involving costume changes, deliberately over-ripe gothic acting and the relentless murder of cute animals for the purpose of plot development all tickle the audience satisfyingly. The pair, who play all the roles themselves, acquit themselves as versatile and inventive stage presences, and by the second act are especially good company. Sadly however, it never quite earns enough laughs to justify the running time of two hours, when it should be a breezy romp. More frequently given to producing warm smiles than actual belly laughter, it is not quite the festive treat it promises to be in the tagline.
With that said, it is certainly likeable, and will probably pick up polish along the run. For fans of the stately-homes-and-heavy-breathing canon of literature, it will provide some welcome laughs and not a bad bit of romance too.
Her Aching Heart is playing at The Hope Theatre until December 23.
Photo: Roy Tan