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Harry Clarke at the Ambassadors Theatre | Review

Only two characters are listed in the programme, Philip Brugglestein and Harry Clarke, although Billy Crudup plays, in total, nineteen characters, all with distinct voices and mannerisms. The inevitable question that people ask when in conversation with me is: what are you seeing at the theatre in the next week or so? In the last few days, I’ve had a follow-up question: who is Harry Clarke? Well, I don’t know, I reply, because I haven’t seen the show yet.

Billy Crudup in Harry Clarke. Credit - Carol Rosegg.
Billy Crudup in Harry Clarke. Credit – Carol Rosegg.

But before I even get to that, Billy Crudup is to be commended for more than one impeccable British accent throughout a fairly intense eighty-minute one-man show. There have been many examples of actors from the United States not quite getting it right when it comes to British accents (should you ever want a particularly bad set of examples, I recommend the Broadway cast recording of the musical Kinky Boots) – and indeed, vice versa.

Philip was born in Illinois and grew up in Indiana, and on account of watching a lot of British television during his formative years (being American, he refers to “English TV shows” as opposed to British ones) as a form of escapism whilst living in a house where he suffered from domestic violence, he developed a southern English accent. But then he takes on another separate personality, which he calls ‘Harry Clarke’, who has a deeper voice, more cockney (well, okay, Estuary English) than Philip’s clipped tones. And, for the record, there are plenty of American voices too. Oh, and some singing and dancing, though not, if I recall correctly, both at once.

Having recently seen a different show that made a point of telling the audience there aren’t any pyrotechnics in the production, this one relies not only heavily, but almost entirely on the art of storytelling. There are some subtle shifts in lighting (Alan C. Edwards) as different scenes in different locations come to life – more is dramatised than described in this show, thankfully – but otherwise, it’s all in the delivery of each and every line of each and every character, always engaging and always seemingly effortless. Bart Fasbender’s sound design is subtle and seamless, enhancing the performance and never overpowering it, to the point where there are times it is barely noticed.

It is easy to forget that there is only one actor on stage, and despite some absurd, ridiculous and ostentatious (and maybe exaggerated) recollections of an evidently colourful life, there’s something relatable about wanting to live a better life than the life one already has. This could have been a play about the long-lasting effects of child abuse – instead, the good times roll as quickly as is feasible. Philip moves to New York, and carves out a new life for himself. David Cale’s script is very strong, with British English idioms galore, which went down well with the West End press night audience. It is a mesmerising and astonishing performance from Billy Crudup, and one that was, like the best nights out at the theatre, over all too quickly.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor Billy Crudup (The Morning Show, Coast of Utopia, No Man’s Land, Almost Famous) delivers an acting “masterclass” (New York Theatre Guide) in David Cale’s wickedly funny thriller HARRY CLARKE, transferring to London’s West End from March direct from sell-out runs in New York and Berkeley.

Why go and see it?
80 minutes. 19 characters. 1 tour-de-force performance.
Harry Clarke has a secret. Well, Philip Brugglestein has a secret – but people only have eyes for seductive Londoner Harry…

Conjuring comparisons to The Talented Mr. Ripley and Saltburn with a touch of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, HARRY CLARKE keeps audiences guessing – charting the exploits of an awkward Midwestern man who moves to New York City to charm his way into a wealthy family.

Harry Clarke live at Ambassadors Theatre from Saturday 9th March to Saturday 11th May 2024.

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