Heartbeat was a much loved television series, watched, in its heyday by 14m people. The show was a Sunday night fixture for 18 years before being axed purely for financial reasons.
So bringing it back as a stage show would make sense. Only it doesn’t. Someone should have slapped a “do not resuscitate” notice on the notion because this transplant, which opened last night at Wycombe Swan, barely has a pulse and is already showing signs of rejection.
I was a huge fan of the series so it grieves me to say this but the stage show just doesn’t work on so many levels.
Physically the video back cloth spluttered and flickered and didn’t perform, the iconic ’60s music drowned out the actors, the sound generally was poor, and the stage set, which included a revolve featuring a mock-up of the Aidensfield Arms bar, had a life of its own.
What is astonishing is that most of these problems were experienced on the UK tour’s opening last week in Blackpool and they’re still occurring. It’s a mess.
The storyline is weak and fails to deliver either laughs or interest with the biggest giggle of the night coming from a gag involving a stuffed dog.
What is surprising is that the play has been written by TV regular, and one of the show’s only two stars who appear in the stage production, David Lonsdale, who reprises his role as daft David, the village fool.
Heartbeat uses the tried and tested formula of blending a serious topic in with the mundane, frequently comic, goings-on of the people of Aidensfield in Yorkshire.
The light-hearted stuff doesn’t get any more interesting than the pub getting a jukebox and cleaner Annie Beck (Erin Geraghty) offering to take undertaker, Bernie Scripps, clothes shopping. Gina (Carly Cook), always more ornamental than useful, serves up a ham sandwich and handsome new copper, PC Joe Malton (dishy Hollyoaks actor Matt Milburn obviously hired for his hunk appeal) moans about littering.
The serious thread hangs on the 1969 Irish Troubles and a story about a terrorist bomber being hunted but any dramatic tension (and watching Callum O’Neill’s nicely underplayed turn as activist Aidan is about the show’s only highlight) evaporates as the revolving stage whisks the characters away to show a bit of business with David, still fumbling with his cloth cap and panicking over his odd-jobs, and gormless copper, PC Geoff Younger (Steven Blakeley).
Both Lonsdale and Blakeley were applauded when they appeared on stage, and they do make a winning comedy double act, but they need better gags. David Horne’s impression of Peter Benson’s Bernie Scripps is laudable and he does land a few dry one-liners.
But none of the cast appear confident with their lines and that’s not helped by over-long pauses between each scene and clunky direction.
One of the biggest problems is something that a stage show can never overcome. A major part of the enjoyment that came from watching Heartbeat on TV was seeing the location, the beautiful sweeping moors and idyllic surrounds of Ashfordleigh and Aidensfield that were perpetually caught in a 1960s time warp.
The producers, David Graham Entertainment, try their best to replicate the outside vistas with a video screen showing a steam train arriving and views of the heather-clad hills, but it was difficult to see them amid the shuddering images. At one point, the whole backcloth went dark.
It takes more than nostalgia to make a show successful and this Heartbeat is in need of a pacemaker or it will struggle to survive a four-month tour.
ITV’s iconic Yorkshire soap, Heartbeat, is transplanted to the stage but there’s barely a pulse in this lacklustre, poorly prepared production. Call the doctor and do not resuscitate.