Heartbeat is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, that sadly fails to live up to it’s TV success.
As the audience enter the auditorium they are greeted by the sound of the sixties and a huge projection screen that fills the back wall of the stage, displaying the iconic Heartbeat logo. There is no mistaking that Director Keith Myers wants the show to pick up right where Heartbeat left off and for many of the audience members the show did seem to provide a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but sadly the overall production failed to live up to Heartbeat’s TV success.
For a stage production of a TV show with such an iconic reputation, surprisingly many elements were rather unpolished and amateur.
The initial perception of Judy Reaves’ set design is effective but basic. It provides the audience with the Yorkshire Dale setting through the use of countryside projections and a grassy raked stage. Furthermore, the emblematic Heartbeat logo lingers above the scene and the Aidensfield Arms is recreated on a rotating stage; these touches firmly place the TV show in the forefront of the audiences mind.
The simplistic nature of Reaves’ design allowed for a flexibility between indoor and outdoor scenes and the use of the rotating pub was clever as it allowed set changes to be made out of the view of the audience. However, there was a lot of ‘blackout; rotate pub; scene; blackout; rotate pub’, which made the overall presentation rather basic and lacking fluidity in it’s lighting and set composition.
This may not have been to the fault of Reaves and Chris Davey’s designs but due to the restrictions of the script that required forward/backward transitioning that may be comfortable for a TV show but does not work on stage.
The main issue with Heartbeat was the amateur nature of the show’s production values. Sometimes the video projections were jittery and the sound lingered from the projection so that the speech of the actors in the next scene could not be heard. A tightening of sound cues is definitely needed.
What was more shocking however, was the fact that for the whole show part of the projection was cut off. The holding background whilst the main action occurs is three polaroid snaps of iconic Heartbeat sets. Sadly, part of the left-hand image was cut off, giving the impression again of an unpolished performance.
Myers decision to use iconic music from the sixties that referenced the action on stage during the scene changes was nice, as it reiterated the show’s nostalgic atmosphere. Yet, the use of what can only be described as pantomime villain, tension music at the end of the first act was atrocious. It was almost patronising that music had to be played to signal to the audience that something bad was happening and although this is commonly used in TV, it was not required for the theatre. Again and again this production succeeded in demonstrating that the characteristics of a television show format do not transfer to the stage, at least not in such an ill-conceived way.
Conversely, some of the amateur elements of the production were made fun of by the cast in performance, which gave the show a slight tongue and cheek feeling that aided the general response to the performance. For example, the stuffed nature of the dog used by David Lonsdale, in his role as David Stockwell, was made overtly clear with references in the script and how the actors handled the prop. This consequently brought resounding laughs to the auditorium.
Equally, an unapologetically bad use of props was highlighted with Myers’ decision to have Callum O’Neill, as Aidan McGuire, pretend to throw darts at a dart board. It looked silly, especially as O’Neill was throwing at an imaginary board off stage, therefore it would have been easy to have a real board there and the audience would have still been unaware of whether O’Neill’s dart skills were up to scratch!
On a lighter note, as previously mentioned this production is clearly intended as a trip down memory lane. So, when Lonsdale and Steven Blakeley, as PC Geoff Younger, came on stage, they received a round of applause. This applause turned out to be well-deserved, as these two actors completely stole the show.
Both Lonsdale and Blakeley brought a natural flair to their acting and demonstrated perfect comic timing, sympathetic line delivery and encapsulated the essence of Heartbeat that sadly lacked in the rest of the production.
Matt Milburn’s performance as PC Joe Malton was sadly limited in terms of stage time but his characterisation was charming, light hearted and perfectly fitted with the sort of Heartbeat PCs that came before him in the TV series.
Another performance that stood out was that of David Horne as Bernie Scripps whose nonchalant, doddery delivery was perfect and provided comic reprieve in the anti-climatic scenes of the second act. Likewise, Erin Geraghty as Annie Beck was compassionate and the epitome of a Northern busy-body. Horne and Geraghty together brought heart to their characters and bounced brilliantly off each other.
Sadly, this was not the same for either O’Neill or Carly Cook as Gina Bellamy. From the moment Cook stepped onstage she seemed tense, concentrating on the delivery of her lines rather than the performance itself. Understandably, she had big boots to fill playing a role that was made famous by Tricia Penrose and in a show that relies heavily on nostalgia; her own personal performance felt overshadowed by her reliance on an already established character.
During the dramatic scenes of the second act, sadly, Cook’s performance stagnated and despite the intense scene occurring before her, she didn’t really react, almost appearing bored. Likewise, no tension was built from O’Neill’s performance. Both he and Jason Griffiths, as James Sheedy, delivered their lines but there was nothing behind them, no tension, no drama, no character, nothing.
The pace lagged throughout, slightly picking up in the second act with O’Neill and Griffiths’ dramatic showdown in the pub but only very slightly. Also up until that point there was no real storyline. Again, in a long running TV drama this can be fine, but for a two-hour theatre show it’s not good enough.
The script needed to be more concentrated on the action occurring in one area instead of chopping and changing, and more light and shade needed to be be built into the performance possibilities of the text. The simplistic change between drama and comedy scenes was the only complexity in the script; the action felt very much on the same level throughout the show (with the exception of Blakeley and Lonsdale’s comedy double act). Where tension should have been built it wasn’t, when drama should have subtly unfolded it was thrust directly at the audience. The beautiful nuances of theatre were cast aside and an attempt was made to recreate a TV show on stage.
Sadly, this isn’t a successful adaptation of a classic. One was left with the feeling that a rehearsal had just been watched, not a show about to conclude a national UK tour.