There are many things that theatre can do for its audience. Sometimes, it will educate, sometimes raise awareness or start a conversation and sometimes it will simply provide a very entertaining distraction from the world outside. The latest example of the latter type of show is When Harry Met Barry which has just opened at the Above the Stag Theatre in Vauxhall.
TV celebrity chef Harry (Brandon Gale) is fed up with ‘love’. Although he is tall, handsome and runs a successful Soho restaurant, he basically only meets men who seem to think a relationship means they stay overnight and nothing needs go deeper than that. And then, one day, while sitting in a coffee shop minding his own business, Harry meets flamboyant design student and scene queen Spencer (Austin Garrett). The two of them seem to hit it off immediately and after a couple of coffees, Harry is not alone anymore. Over in a launderette, hopeless romantic Alice (Maddy Banks) is doing her washing, while reading another trashy novel from the bookshop she works at, when in walks handsome lawyer Barry (Sam Peggs). As the two of them lock eyes over the suds, their hearts go into a spin and the sparks fly between them as they go off for cocktails and romance. Cupid is definitely working hard and, within a short space of time, four lonely people are now two happy(ish) couples. Then one morning, Harry and Barry both grab the same cab and as they sit on the back seat recognition dawns in their eyes. They talk and reminisce and though it may be seven years since their friendship ended, they still remember each other very well.
According to the programme notes, this is the 5th version of Paul Emilion Daly’s When Harry Met Barry and I think it could well be the last one as I’m not sure there is much more that could be done to improve the show. The story is light but nicely laid out and has a few surprises on the way. As my companion said, he guessed the ending but was surprised at how we got there, and I think that’s a nice summation of the way the story runs. There is very little dialogue and the story is told in song with the narrative being broken into eleven distinct parts. This works really well and my one tiny criticism here is that I would love to have had a larger band. MD and keyboard player Simon David along with cellist Emma Melvin were excellent but there were times when the songs needed more accompaniment to really enhance the lyrics and wonderful singing voices of the actors – maybe that can be done on a cast album, if so put me down for a copy now. Musically, there were no iffy songs amongst the score and it is difficult to pick out any favourites. However, ‘We Kissed at Skinny Sue’s House’ really stands out as does ‘Too Many Days’.
Turning to the staging and once again I am amazed at how much can be fitted into the space available at the Above the Stag. Excellent use of lighting – designed by Chris Withers – really helped to create the various places created by Set Designer David Shields who was also responsible for the amazing costumes – I seriously want a glitter ball waistcoat now – that really helped define each character beautifully. A quick mention for Director Steven Dexter who is very adroit at making use of the space and props to keep things flowing. For example, Spencer’s swatches of fabric become Alice’s laundry and a walking cane for Barry becomes part of a barrier at the National Theatre. Not to mention the puppets, tube train or the wonderful sight of Spencer dancing on skates in Act II – great choreography from Ewan Jones throughout.
However, all of the above is nothing without a great cast and the four actors in When Harry Met Barry are really great at bringing their respective characters to life. Austin Garrett’s Spencer. This was probably the hardest character to portray as it would be so easy for Spencer to be one of those annoying screaming queens that haunt parts of Soho, However, Austin kept Spencer loud, proud and out there but also reeled the character in so that he wouldn’t instantly alienate everyone that met him. Maddy Banks was so sweet as Alice. Young, sweet and innocent, just looking for love and believing she had found it in the handsome, lawyer that swept into her life in an empty launderette. Sam Peggs treads a fine line with Barry who could easily be the villain of the piece as he deals with his demons whilst toying with the affections of those around him. But, Sam makes you care for Barry, even as he breaks Alice’s heart – okay no spoilers but you guessed she would get hurt somewhere. Finally Brandon Gale, as Harry, just looks the part from the start. There is something about the assured way he handles his tools on the kitchen that suggests the real life Brandon likes to cook – or is an amazing actor – either way, I would definitely watch his cooking show. Four great individual actors who together form a formidable team with a really great chemistry and enthusiasm that permeates the show throughout.
So, there you have it. I loved When Harry Met Barry a real feel good musical which in these days of Trump, GE17 and Brexit is a very welcome distraction from the woes of the world.
Review by Terry Eastham
Forget about Sally!
Love comes like a whirlwind into the lives of the lonely.
Romance for trendy clubber Spencer with TV chef Harry, and then bookshop girl Alice with hunky lawyer Barry… but nobody counted on Harry and Barry bumping into each other in the back of a taxi, and rekindling an old friendship!
With its witty lyrics and melodic score, When Harry met Barry is a feel-good story for the 21st Century…with one happy ending!
Last seen six years ago in our original venue in Victoria, this feel-good romantic musical comedy is back in a sparkling new production directed by Steven Dexter (Fanny & Stella, The Sins of Jack Saul and Loserville in the West End).
WHEN HARRY MET BARRY
a romantic musical comedy
book, music and lyrics by Paul Emelion Daly