Writer: David Lonsdale
Director: Keith Myers
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
The set for Heartbeat acts as a metaphor for most of the things that are wrong with this production. The wonderful countryside of Yorkshire is represented by some astroturf, fake flowers and a plastic wall all thrown together with a wonky sense of perspective. The nostalgia-laden fictional village of Aidensfield is conflated into one endlessly revolving pub set. The title of the TV show is projected above the set of this comedy play reminding us that it feels like it’s written for the wrong medium.
The writing is dire. It echoes bad situation comedies of the past, offering no new twists on lame jokes and set-ups. The dialogue is a string of po-faced clichés, typically ‘We don’t want PC plod sticking his beak in’. The characters’ lines sometimes simply make no sense: a barmaid comments on how depressed a policeman is when he’s simply come in and sat down; another policeman comments on how strange a visitor is when he’s not done or said anything strange, and the motivations and actions of the four characters involved in the climax of the play are just repetitive nonsense.
The writer is David Lonsdale, who also plays one of the characters that transfers from the TV series to this stage adaptation, David Stockwell. He just hasn’t grasped some of the basics of writing for the stage. For example, instead of a crucial strong opening, the first scene of the play is ambling and third rate, with characters constantly off stage shouting on, or worse leaving the stage empty altogether. A consistent weakness is the short length of some scenes. It’s easy to cut between short scenes on screen, but on stage, the business of entrances and exits and a slow revolving set, means some scenes feel shorter than the set changes between them. In television, cliffhangers are written in to keep audiences hooked during add breaks. On stage, you have a captive audience. So, when Lonsdale’s script persistently breaks scenes just as they get flowing, the result is the opposite of tension as the onstage energy and flow constantly gets interrupted and dissipates.
The cast soldiers bravely on, trying to find something to perform in this one-dimensional nonsense. PC Joe Malton is the latest inheritor of the leading man mantel. He doesn’t really get much to do, but Matt Milburn gives us a clear picture of an upstanding young country copper. Gina Bellamy, the acting landlady, is played with Scouse conviction by Carly Cook, who even makes lines like ‘Now don’t you go forgetting [insert what her character has just said 10 seconds ago]’ sound OK. David Horne is weaker as Bernie Scripps, often mistiming jokes. Lonsdale as David Stockwell and Steven Blakeley as PC Geoff Younger form a comedy double-act that does raise a couple of laughs, but as they are the only actors from the TV series, it also leaves all the scenes they’re not in feeling a bit hollow and inauthentic. Perhaps the fault, though ultimately lies with the director Keith Myer, who can’t decide if he’s directing a farce or a period drama, and who should have stopped the stage from revolving, constantly slowing the pace and diverting from the action.
Heartbeat is areal failure. It isn’t finishing off a story. It’s diminishing it. It’s hard not to see it as a disappointing and cynical exploitation of the TV show’s fanbase. It fails to make the transition from TV to stage. It fails to deliver either much comedy or any believable drama. And it fails most of all to have any heart. A total flatliner.
Runs until 30 April2016 | Image: Contributed