129: Her Aching Heart

28 Jul

This is another of Bryony Lavery’s early plays and is a spoof with a subversive edge. Think historical romance and all the cliches of the genre and then give it lesbian protagonists and you’ll have a pretty good idea of Her Aching Heart.

cover image for bodice ripper romance

Bodice Ripper

The play was written to be performed by two women, each playing multiple characters, with hilarious stage directions to denote the different characters: “A yokel enters with a bunch of simple hedgerow flowers. Although in these penurious times he may bear a passing resemblance to Harriet in a red wig he is a completely different character.” Gorgeous! I love the way Lavery has kept the purple prose in the stage directions as well as in the dialogue. The whole thing reads like a wonderfully over the top romance from start to finish.

Harriet and Molly are two contemporary characters who’ve met at a conference and exchanged phone numbers. They are, coincidentally, both reading the same dodgy romance with two heroines also called Harriet and Molly. In a matter of minutes we are inside the story and seeing both the overblown romance and the contemporary relationship. Harriet Helstone is a rich and spoilt young woman, setting off on a hunt on her estate.

HARRIET: Oh how weary I am of our rakish friends! How tired I am of rich and dissolute men! How fatigued I am with beautiful and powdered women! Small wonder I am ardent and wilful! Small wonder London society is agog with my outrageous pranks. Little wonder that a devil of discontent mars my otherwise lovely countenance!

Molly is a fair country lass who tries to rescue the fox Harriet is hunting.

MOLLY: Oh, poor thing … you’re quivering with fright! What can we do? I’ll take you home to my poor but specklessly clean cottage … Oh no … my gown is caught on the thorn bush! I’m trapped! Oh no!!!!

The two meet and sparks soon fly as in all the best romances.

HARRIET: That girl! That ridiculous, stupid, ignorant, uneducated, untitled girl! Where did she go? How dare she leave before I dismissed her? How dare she dash away to … where … a hovel I suppose … a nasty, low, dirty cote in the village I suppose … I suppose there is a village down there in the valley … I suppose she is there even now … surrounded by her low folk … telling her snivelling tale …

MOLLY: That lady! That rude, cruel, arrogant, overweening, proud lady! How could she? How could she kill my fox friend? I expect she has mounted her horse … and ridden off up that high hill … to where? … to Helstone Hall I suppose … and she is sitting there now with all her mighty and powerful friends … laughing at my plight … sneering at my red-haired friend’s death …

Her Aching Heart is full of songs and I imagine it would be a lot of fun and silliness staged. In her introduction to the book, Lavery says:

“Luckily I had spent my radiant teens alternately swotting for Latin, English and History ‘A’ levels and bunking off to read Georgette Heyer and Daphne du Maurier. Admirers of the British education system will discover in the text a cornucopia of romantic gush, at least five non-adjacent historical periods … and five words of Latin.”

Publisher: Methuen Drama (included in Bryony Lavery: Plays 1)

Cast: 2F (with lots of doubling)

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