There were nearly 400 television episodes of Heartbeat between 1992 and 2010. Its winning combination of crime, comedy and a Sixties soundtrack attracted huge audiences and also gave its leading man Nick Berry (who played PC Nick Rowan) a hit record with his version of the Buddy Holly hit that was the show’s title song. He played a London copper transferred to the idyllic Yorkshire village of Aidensfield, where the series was set.
Adapting the show for the stage is a logical step, especially if you can get one or two of the original cast on board. David Lonsdale reprises his role as the slow-witted David Stockwell, and has also written the script. Steve Blakeley is back as PC Geoff Younger, who’s likewise no Sherlock Holmes where powers of detection are concerned. Both actors received warm applause the moment they appeared on stage. Sadly Nick Berry seems to have given up acting – as he could no doubt afford to – quite a few years ago. But in his place we have Hollyoaks’ Matt Milburn as PC Joe Malton, a differently named but otherwise quite similar character. All of these are excellent, as are the rest of the cast, including Carly Cook as Gina, the Liverpudlian landlady at the village local, looking and sounding very much like Brenda in that other ITV series, Watching. David Horne is comical undertaker Bernie Scripps, and there’s a very lifelike performance from Érin Geraghty as the pub cleaner.
The storyline centres on a mysterious young Irishman (Callum O’Neill as Aidan, arguably the play’s most complex character), who arrives at Gina’s pub looking for a place to stay, followed soon after by an equally mysterious older man in a sharp suit (Jason Griffiths), who’s looking for him. Aidan’s political sympathies become clear and the plot thickens. The play gets darker in the second half as the truth about the men’s identities is gradually revealed, but the comedy is never far away (Heartbeat’s portrayal of crime always was more Midsummer Murders – usually without the deaths – than Peaky Blinders). David Lonsdale’s script replicates the gentle humour that was the real secret of the original show’s success. A memorable routine involving a stuffed dog gets the biggest laugh, and a spontaneous round of applause. Not all of the jokes are as successful, but somehow that just adds to the charm.
There’s a clever revolving set, which enables the action to alternate between the pub and other village locations, complemented by atmospheric video footage (early on we see the arrival of a steam train). Add to this a soundtrack stuffed with crowd-pleasing if very abbreviated Sixties hits (from The Locomotion to Rubber Ball and Mrs Robinson) and you have the ingredients for a very entertaining evening.
Heartbeat is a show that effectively delivers a double dose of nostalgia, evoking happy memories of a turn of the millennium TV series which itself appealed to viewers because it took them back a few decades earlier. Fans of the TV version – and there were a lot of them – will not be disappointed.
*** A nostalgic treat
Heartbeat continues at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton until Saturday June 11 2016. For more information, click HERE.