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Theatre Review: Paper Hearts @ Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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Paper Hearts is a sweet and fun loving piece of theatre that explores the way words reflect on the life an author. 

Paper Hearts tells the story of Atticus, a writer struggling his way through the creation of his first novel. Along the way, he deals with a girlfriend whom he no longer connects with, a stranger who he might be connecting too much with and an absent father whose approval is something he desperately wants to have.

It shows how these moments in his life – what used to be important and what is now – inform the book he is writing. His characters take the forms of people in his life (a benefit of the small cast number) and what these two must go through romantically is linked explicitly to how he views his own real life romantic endeavours.

Atticus is generally a likeable character. If anyone has ever tried to write a book, he is unbelievably relatable. The struggle to get through the story, the attachment to his characters, the worry of where it will even be good enough – all something that you will have experienced one way or another. 

Lily is something strong and confident in the best way – she knows what she wants, she knows who she is and she doesn’t shy away from her options. Their romantic chemistry comes from a love of books and literature, and the passion they feel for those things which makes things feel real and genuine, despite the complications that arise around them.

The songs are catchy and wonderful and fit perfectly into the story. Whilst some musicals can make the singing seem quite sudden and out of place, Paper Hearts succeeded in making the jump from speech to singing seamless, whether it be the dictating of Atticus’ novel or the exposition of Lily’s feelings towards books and a lonely childhood.

The musicians are incredible and deserving of all the celebrations and pride they should be feeling. The pressure on the music is, of course, high in a musical but they kept everything together – jumping from one genre of music to the next. They played roles in the piece just as much as being the orchestra. They sung, they danced with their instruments - even the cello got to go out for a spin across the dance floor!

Some criticisms are worth bringing up, if only because it could affect your enjoyment of the show if these are things that you find hard to deal with. There is some explicit girl hate between Alex, Atticus’ girlfriend, and Lily, the current object of his affections – a short scene but something that is important to note.

Also, for one part of the show, Atticus speaks to Lily with gendered slurs, male entitlement and the assumption that Lily is a ‘tease’. Whilst it leads to an awesome song number telling Atticus to keep his judgements to himself that definitely is full of Spice Girl-inspired girl power, it still happens and is worth being pointed out.

Overall, Paper Hearts is a thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre with incredible singing, foot-tapping music and a sweet plot. It will have you laughing and your chest hurting with sympathetic pains. It’s a love story to books just as much as it is a love story between Atticus and Lily, and will definitely rekindle any love of literature that you do have.

For the chance to watch Paper Hearts for yourself, check out their website.

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