Harry, the play, is a brilliantly acted tragicomedy about two first year university students in the grip of an obsession so powerful that it intrudes on their every waking thought, punctuates every sentence they speak, and renders them prostrate before the altar of the pop boy band, One Direction, but especially Harry Styles, the prince charming of the group.
The play throws up lots of questions about female obsession with male pop idols – and every generation has them – in particular, Frank Sinatra, 1940s, Elvis Presley, 1950s, The Beatles, 1960s, although The Beatles did not produce a major heart throb to overshadow the power of the band as did One Direction’s Harry Styles. And no matter what your opinion is of One Direction, you will find yourself caught up in the mantra Harry, as chanted by university students Caitlin and Sophie (Caitlin McEwan and Sophie McQuillan) because – and especially if you are female – you’ve had your Harry, too. I know I had mine in the 1970s with Al Pacino and his sexy portrayal of Michael Corleone in Godfather 1. The difference being that I could not get my daily fix on Al’s life in the same way as Caitlin and Sophie who squeal, swoon and nearly collapse as they recount Harry’s daily posts on Twitter. And it is the squeals of these two highly accomplished actresses – McEwan, and McQuillan – that infuses the play with its energy and its truth, especially in the way they play out the dynamics of BFF (best friends forever) in the ‛Harry super glue’ that binds them. Who can be bothered studying or engaging with the outside world when the purpose of their existence is to be devout followers of the church of Harry. And what makes the pursuit logical is that Harry is not like Princes William and Harry, no, he is someone who is obtainable in the real world – someone like them. After all, didn’t he come from a family of farm labourers. And what about his part time stint in a bakery before he was anointed on the altar of fame. Caitlin imagines their life together, she and Harry watching television and sharing a pizza. But even if they never meet, she can tweet Harry directly and he can actually read her tweet. What more can life offer?
But the demands of the real world chip away at the Twitter feed. Harry is a selfish god, offering only 140 characters or less to his followers, sometimes just a one word tweet ‛burgers’. The cracks in the Harry fantasy are inevitable and the first to ease her way out is Sophie, who joins a netball team, and speaks the words of a traitor – her need to be involved with a social group and her aspirations to join a law firm – while Caitlin remains secluded in her loyalty to Harry.
Perhaps a clue to their different approaches to life lies in their areas of study. Caitlin, who cannot extricate herself from obsession, is an art student, while Sophie, who seeks to be part of a wider society, reads law. The law is all about limits and the imposition of penalties, while art transcends social boundaries, embraces the perverse and questions accepted norms. Perhaps Caitlin cannot punch her way out of troubled thinking because her passions are unbounded – like art – but you’ll have to see this complex and sophisticated play to draw your own conclusions.
Harry, written by Caitlin McEwan and produced by Poor Michelle Productions, is a well-crafted, beautifully acted play. Accolades all around.
Review by Loretta Monaco
“Who is that?”
“He’s my favourite”
“I think he’s everyone’s favourite”
Caitlin and Sophie meet at university and quickly become best friends. United by their love of crisp sandwiches and the latest X Factor sensation, One Direction, they plaster the walls of their room with pictures of the band’s charismatic heartthrob, Harry Styles. But over time, the obsession that initially brings them together starts to have more damaging effects.
From Soho Writer’s Lab graduate Caitlin McEwan, this hilarious new play about friendship and fandom explores the impact of a celebrity-obsessed, Twitter-fuelled culture on young people – where fantasy and reality are dangerously close.
Sophie – Sophie McQuillan
Caitlin – Caitlin McEwan
Writer – Caitlin McEwan
Director – Ellie Gauge
Venue: King’s Head Theatre, Islington
115 Upper Street
London N1 1QN
Final date Tuesday 16th August 2016
Running time: 60 mins
14+, mild swearing
Tickets: £15 (£12)