Review: Heartbeat, Buxton Opera House

The first time I visited Goathland I was surprised to run into a coachload of Dutch people there to mark their enthusiasm for Heartbeat.

I hadn’t anticipated that such an ‘English’ programme would travel so well. Goathland is, of course, Aidensfield – the North Yorkshire village in which the TV programme is set. Over a period of 18 years nearly 400 episodes of the programme were made and it stands to reason that it has a huge and loyal following.

One of the intriguing things about this stage adaptation was how the sense of the moors and the wide-open spaces surrounding the village could be suggested. One of the attractions of the programme was the scenery and the confines of the theatre would surely work against it?

Skilful use of projected images – of the heather and skylines – plus the on-stage scenery of dry stone walls and grass verges (sadly no sheep though) reminded us that Aidensfield does indeed sit high on the Yorkshire moors and the constant movement from scenes in the pub to others in the churchyard served to emphasise that this was a story about place as much as people.

Heartbeat is famously set in the 1960s. The soundtrack for the show must have featured 20 or so songs – mostly from the early 60s – and just in case you forgot the mini-dresses and flared trousers helped fix the story in 1969. The serious plot element hinted at IRA pub bombings – Guildford and Birmingham were in 1974 – and this ‘darkness’ surprised me; I had expected something altogether frothier throughout.

For the most part the storyline was lighter – based on the characters and their foibles – and laughter came easily. This touring production is packed with professional experience and expertise and you’d expect it to be ‘well-done’. Fans were glad to welcome Steven Blakeley (PC Geoff Younger) and David Lonsdale (David Stockwell) to the stage and Mr Lonsdale also wrote the script.

The story was told with pace – over 20 short scenes in two hours – and the set was managed smoothly so that interest was never lost. David Graham has produced a show which will surely delight fans of a programme which is nostalgic but not sentimental.

Keith Savage