REVIEW: This knight's tale packs a punch

Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC), Heartspur, by Bob Shannon, St James's URC Church Centre, Alnwick, Thursday, September 27.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 4th October 2018, 11:32 am
Updated Thursday, 4th October 2018, 11:33 am
Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur.
 Juke is played by John Downham.
 Picture by Jane Coltman
Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur. Juke is played by John Downham. Picture by Jane Coltman

Take a legendary knight, a classic sixties soundtrack, a little bit of Shakespeare and set it against the backdrop of a fairground from yesteryear, and you’ve got Heartspur.

This imaginative retelling of the life and times of Harry Hotspur is a gripping, absorbing and powerful tale, leading up to the death of this heroic Northumbrian warrior, who was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur. Picture by Jane Coltman

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Bob Shannon’s clever play twists these chain of events, by taking Hotspur out of the medieval period and thrusting him into the 1960s. Armour and chainmail are replaced with slicked-back hair, turned-up jeans and a biker jacket.

Just like our 15th century knight, Hotspur and members of his Percy family have grievances against the king, only in Shannon’s story, their beef is not with King Henry IV of England, but the notorious Barry King. The two sides are gripped in a turf war, with King squeezing the life out of the Percy’s fairground business, leading to a final, bloody and fatal showdown.

To change the story is a bold move from the North-East playwright, but it works wonderfully well.

The play uses dialogue from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I – in which Hotspur features – and more modern language. There’s also some classic 60s tracks, such as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Soldier Boy.

Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur. David McCarthy plays Hotz. Picture by Jane Coltman

But while Heartspur carries the somewhat light promotional tag of hippy-hippy Shake-speare, this isn’t a fluffy play. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of real humour, but this is a dark and emotive show about troubled marriage and the lengths you’d go to defend the people you love, even if that includes murder.

Taking centre stage is David McCarthy, who played Hotspur, or in this tale, Hotz. Having seen McCarthy in previous NTC shows, I was expecting very good things, and this consistent, top-draw performer didn’t disappoint.

His Hotz mixed confident, cocky swagger, with a strong, intense, unrelenting desire for battle and glory, in the name of honour and family – a man who lives and ultimately dies by his hard-man reputation. It was Danny Zuko meets William Wallace.

McCarthy’s performance was ably supported by Bethan Amber, who played Hotz’ wife, Kate. The chemistry between the couple – troubled, yet still in love – was powerful, gritty stuff and Amber gave a convincing portrayal of a strong-willed wife who is trying to smile through a seemingly broken marriage which is on the brink.

Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur. Picture by Jane Coltman

And then there was Amber’s voice – oh boy, what vocals! Those first few notes of Etta James’ At Last, in particular, gave me goosebumps.

Another to smash the vocals was Kylie Ann Ford. She was absorbing throughout the show and the sexual chemistry between her and Hotz in the early parts of the show was sizzling, while her Welsh accent as Phil in the second half was very well-executed.

Then there was John Downham, who gave a fine portrayal of Juke – a sleazy old man who sexually harasses his younger secretary, coupled with being a troubled drunkard whose family business is sinking around him.

Meanwhile, Louis Roberts was hysterical as goofy dogsbody Spuggy. His scene with McCarthy, where the pair discuss Hotz’ ability to bag all of the women, was entertaining stuff, with belly laughs aplenty.

Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur. Picture by Jane Coltman

Heartspur was directed by NTC stalwart Gillian Hambleton, who makes the most out of her talented cast and well-designed set. Harry Hotspur is a Northumbrian legend and NTC and Bob Shannon more than did him justice with this knight’s tale.

The excellent show is being performed at various Northumberland venues this month, all at 7.30pm. There are New Life Church, Morpeth (today); Otterburn Village Hall (tomorrow); Saturday (Bamburgh Village Hall); Sunday (Longhorsley Village Hall); Tuesday (Kirkwhelpington Memorial Hall); and Saturday, October 13 (Hindmarsh Hall, Alnmouth).

For details, visit

Northumberland Theatre Company, Heartspur. Picture by Jane Coltman