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Harley and Me at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre | Review

Harley and Me When domestic violence is dramatized, people take notice. The Archers, that BBC radio programme that has been entertaining listeners since 1950, had a storyline in 2016 that was even reported in the New York-based weekly news magazine Time. Robert Titchener (Timothy Watson) had been abusing his wife Helen (Louiza Patikas) for some time, taking over more and more aspects of her life. In desperation, Helen eventually attacked Rob with a knife, which led to her being charged with attempted murder and wounding with intent. An online ‘Helen Titchener Rescue Fund’, set up to raise money for the charity Refuge, had a target of £150,000, which it exceeded.

Harley & Me (slightly questionable grammar aside – I let it go initially, but my word processor program had other ideas) is also looking to raise awareness for a charitable cause. Solace Women’s Aid, according to its website, “offers free advice and support to women and children in London to build safe and strong lives. Futures free from abuse and violence.” Harley (Danielle Williams) has been put behind bars – the exact reasons why, alas, would be giving too much away. She’s being interviewed for a psychiatric assessment by someone named only as Doctor (Sharon Duffy), dressed in an outfit purchased at Bloomingdale’s flagship store at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

I did wonder whether the Doctor was well and truly a doctor, seemingly outsmarted (or, in the vocabulary of (some) millennials, ‘owned’) by Harley, who has experience in the field of psychiatry herself. Additionally, it is difficult to envisage a medical professional making the sorts of putdowns and rather personal remarks that spew out of the Doctor’s mouth. Jay (an off-stage character, voiced by Joseph Blunt) is referred to as “an ignorant asshole”, which perhaps inevitably precipitates a robust response from Harley.

But is she (Harley) too defensive of Jay? As more aspects of their home life are revealed, there’s no getting away from the bizarre (to me, at least) position that Harley is in: she loves someone who is harming her. It is somewhat unfortunate that this brief play doesn’t delve too deeply into why it is that Harley thinks in this manner, concentrating instead on what could well be deemed interventions – attempts to get Harley to walk away from a toxic environment.

That is, of course, easier said than done. The American setting of the play comes through both in the terminology used – I had to look up what the term ‘Miranda Rights’ meant, for instance – and in the repeated references to guns. I do not mean to stereotype all Americans as gun lovers, merely to state that the use of guns in the United States is more widespread than it is in Britain. The play’s ending, abrupt as it is, is indicative of an underlying churlishness in Harley underneath the civility and good humour exhibited outwardly.

An in-the-round (or to be precise, in-the-rectangle) seating arrangement largely worked well here, although the blocking is not perfect. Some simple but effective lighting (Ben Lloyd Ralph) adds to the edgy atmosphere created, and there’s seldom a dull moment in this intriguing and pacey production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A play exploring the many facets of a two dimensional woman who has exerted her influence on women around the world for decades.
A trained psychiatrist and a criminal mastermind trapped in the same room is bad enough, but Harley is a trained psychiatrist and a criminal mastermind trapped in the same body. A doctor attempts to untangle Harley’s mess of emotions, fears and deeply aggressive impulses, leading her to questions of her own beliefs in the process.​
Two women, haunted by the presence of an invisible male authority, are thrown together in an interrogation room, the doors firmly locked. A play exploring the many facets of a two dimensional woman who has exerted her influence on women around the world for decades.

Harley & Me
by Lucy Walters
Director Georgia Leanne
Harris
Produced by Tripped Theatre
@trippedtheatre

22nd – 26th October, 2019
Lion & Unicorn Theatre
42-44 Gaisford St
Kentish Town
London NW5 2ED

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