As the first cousin (albeit twice removed) of the late playwright John McGrath, who wrote TV’s pioneering police drama series – Z-Cars – I do love a good cop show, yet somehow Heartbeat had passed me by when it was on primetime TV.
So when the hugely successful ITV show, which ran from 1992 to 2010, came to Northampton’s Derngate this week, I was intrigued to find out what all the fuss was about.
I knew it was a nostalgic police drama set in the 1960s but other than that had no idea who was who and had no preconceptions about how similar it would be to the TV series. Or why the surprisingly small audience clapped when two actors came onstage (they were from the TV series it turns out).
Yet knowing so little freed me to watch the drama and take the characters at face value . . . and I now know what all the fuss was about. This is engaging, well-written drama based on The Constable novels of Nicholas Rhea, a former local bobby turned author.
The play Heartbeat centres around the small village pub of Aidensfield in Yorkshire, where nothing much ever happens in 1969 and where people can still leave their doors open without fear of crime . . . a slow pace of life which frustrates new cop, PC Joe Malton (Matt Milburn). Scouser Gina Bellamy (Carly Cook) runs the pub and the most exciting thing is the installation of a new jukebox. Until that is when Irish stranger Aidan (Callum O’Neill) arrives, booking a room in the pub, and, on the same day another newcomer in a smart suit and trenchcoat turns up looking for someone.
The set alternates between the pub interior and the countryside where local poacher, David (David Lonsdale) hunts rabbits with the unwitting help of PC Geoff Younger (Steven Blakeley) who trades chores for dance lessons to impress Gina.
There is a long build up in act one to the cliffhanger moment in the pub where no-one is quite sure who to believe is telling the truth and a major crime looks set to take place.
After what was a very slow, yet enjoyable, start to this climax, the pace is rapid in act two and it’s almost over before you realise.
The cast were all superb and, as a Scouser, I was really impressed with Cook’s accent as Gina because it’s a hard one to get right and she had it spot on, especially with the speed of it.
It’s been a long time for me to have my first encounter with Heartbeat, but this has made me realise I missed out on a fantastic show . . . time to catch up with the box sets.
Heartbeat can be seen until Saturday May 14. Tickets for the show can be booked by calling the box office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.