This is one of those shows where the set comes across as deliberately unimportant, and might just as easily have worked as well as a black box ‘poor theatre’ set. But this production of Harrogate is minimalist rather than non-existent, with the audience positioned on two platforms, so to speak, with the stage effectively in the shape of a catwalk. And though the production makes full use of the available space, the trade-off comes in the form of members of the audience, particularly those sat in the centre sections, looking like they are watching a tennis match as certain sections of dialogue in this otherwise enthralling two-hander have Him (Nigel Lindsay) and Her (Sarah Ridgeway) stand at opposite ends. As you would (not) when having a private conversation.
Not satisfied with half the audience sat opposite the other half, almost garish fluorescent lights shine brightly in such a way that the said ‘other half’ is completely visible throughout. The audience reactions are therefore as much a part of the show as the stage action: a bold move, but then HighTide have a reputation for embracing the unconventional. But there is another good reason for it, besides going against established conventions of lowering the lights. Without shifts in lighting focus from one character to another, or from one section of the stage to another, all is constantly exposed, and it is therefore for each audience member to choose where to look at any given moment. The more I think about it, the more innovative yet simple an idea it seems to become. It’s a staggering piece of ingenuity from lighting designer Natasha Chivers.
It is not entirely clear who Her actually is at times, which adds to the intrigue of the story. What I really mean to say is that there is more than one Her in Him’s life. Grammatical torture aside, to say anything more would be giving too much away. Harrogate itself plays a fairly peripheral role in proceedings – indeed, the Yorkshire town is neither praised or derided, and the show certainly isn’t set there. But it’s what Her did while she was there that is of major importance to the narrative. I wouldn’t exactly call it the show’s ‘critical incident’ (though Him, being the sort of man he is, probably thinks so). These are unimaginative character names at first glance – Him and Her – but the nature of their relationship becomes so ambiguous that it becomes increasingly apt. Only off-stage characters are named, and I found it a point of subversive brilliance that we know the cleaner is called Angela but we don’t know the names of the two characters we can see standing before us.
The script is far from naturalistic, particularly in the opening scene, where we are more than sufficiently introduced to Him and Her so succinctly, but without a soliloquy or even an aside or two to the audience. But it is nonetheless a tight script, with not a sentence wasted, and a compelling one too, propelling an intriguing artificiality to proceedings that provoked a healthy amount of post-show discussion in the Royal Court’s bar. It all steadily builds to a crescendo, an explosive finish – which made me wonder if, perhaps, the show isn’t totally avant-garde after all.
As I cannot find fault with this play – thoroughly absorbing from beginning to end – it only leaves me to declare it a resounding success.
Review by Chris Omaweng
After a sell-out run at HighTide Festival 2015, Al Smith’s seminal play, returns for a limited run at the Royal Court followed by a regional tour.
“I dream about you young. When I’m asleep you’re as young as the girl I met.”
Time passes. Roles Change. People become different versions of themselves.
From lover, to father, to husband, one man craves the past but knows his desire for it will destroy his family.
“Each one of us is gonna sit down one day and not be able to stand up, like we’ve disappeared to ourselves.”
RICHARD TWYMAN – Director
AL SMITH – Playwright
TOM PIPER – Designer
HANNAH WOLFE – Associate Designer
NATASHA CHIVERS – Lighting Designer
GEORGE DENNIS – Sound Designer
NIGEL LINDSAY – Him
SARAH RIDGEWAY – Her
1 – 16 November 2016
Farnham Maltings – 1 November – 7:30pm
artsdepot, London – 2 November – 7:30pm
Harlow Playhouse – 3 November – 8:00pm
The North Wall, Oxford – 4 November – 8:00pm
The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury – 6 November –8:00pm
The Garage, Norwich – 10 November – 7:30pm
Didcot Cornerstone – 11 November – 7:30pm
Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds – 14 November – 7:30pm
Cambridge Junction – 16 November – 7:30pm
Tickets: Pricing differs with each venue.