After a successful run at 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, Paper Hearts has returned to the stage at Upstairs at the Gathehouse. Originally 75 minutes, the home-grown musical written by Liam O’Rafferty is back with two acts, and even more original songs and lyrics by O’Rafferty and Daniel Jarvis.
Paper Hearts follows Atticus Smith (Adam Small), a writer, bookseller, and son of a big-shot CEO, Roger Smith (Alasdair Baker). With dreams of publishing his debut novel Angel Star, which he furiously beats out on an old typewriter intermittently, Atticus and his father’s story follows the old ‘son-seeking-approval’ trope.
The twist comes as Atticus meets Lilly Sprockett (Gabriella Margulies), and alongside Yanna (Sinead Wall) and Isaak (Matthew Atkins) – the protagonists of the story he is writing – he learns to love and forgive, to be brave and to take opportunities without being fearful of the outcome.
Atticus’ novel, however, is set in the Soviet Union, and follows Yanna and Isaak as they search for the thug that shot Yanna’s nine-year-old brother. The piece is littered with moments of Angel Star, sometimes full scenes and songs such as ‘That Makes a Good Marriage Last!’ and ‘Stalingrad’, with cast members mutli-roling in dubious Russian accents.
In theory it sounds okay, but, chances are if you enjoy romantic musicals about lost souls falling in love in a little indie bookshop, you may not enjoy a story about a little boy being shot in soviet Russia. It had touching moments where the two narratives aligned, but most of the time the stories were so different, and the contrast so stark, it was a little off-putting.
Adam Small drives the show as Atticus, gangly but eventually confident, he gives him endearing qualities and makes him wholly likeable. Matthew Atkins also shines as Norman, delivering most of the very little comedy the piece had to offer. Sinead Wall stands out as Yanna/Alex, her voice is powerful and pitch perfect; and she is strong and commanding in both her roles. The cast produce impressive sound, and are all strong performers. The ensemble cast provide the music live which is commendable, with musical director Daniel Jarvis playing accompanying piano throughout.
Paper Hearts, while warm and lovely in places, is largely a story we’ve heard before. The songs are well-written but ultimately aren’t very memorable (except for the number describing the plot of the 1945 film Brief Encounter aptly titled Brief Encounter).
The cast are undeniably talented, and the dialogue is sometimes tender and witty. If you’re looking for a gentle and somewhat predictable love story, and don’t mind the odd mention of Joseph Stalin, Paper Hearts is for you.
Paper Hearts is playing at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 20 May.