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Harold and Maude is ‘a theatrical masterpiece’ at Charing Cross Theatre

Linda Marlowe and Patrick Walshe McBride
Linda Marlowe and Patrick Walshe McBride

Death: it’s a strange and grisly subject for a play. But in Harold and Maude we have a genial, funny, uplifting and rejuvenating show that warms the cockles of our hearts and sends us on our way to face the world with a spring in our step and just a little extra love in our souls. And that is not just because Colin Higgins’s play is affectionately and sympathetically written but because this particular production comes as near to perfection as you can get in the theatre.

A brilliant ensemble of actor-musicians perambulate the stage providing a living, moving backdrop to the amusingly morbid shenanigans that evolve before us. There is Joanna Hickman, an accomplished cellist, who trebles up as prospective consorts for Harold, adding sparkle and humour and pazazz in her cleverly observed portrayals. And her musical “responses” on the other end of telephone calls are a delight. Christopher Dickins, as Doctor Matthews, plays the on-stage keyboard with flair and panache and never misses a beat in delivering his psychiatrist role. As well as vocals and percussive interludes and occasional drolly choreographed soft-shoe shuffle moments, the ensemble’s double base, accordion, clarinet and guitar, amongst other instruments, are expertly woven into the fabric of the piece by various Police Officers (Anthony Cable, Samuel Townsend) a Priest (Johnson Willis) and a maid (Anne White) all of whom show great mastery of timing and perfect empathy with the style and symmetry of the piece: a lovely concept by Director Thom Sutherland whilst Composer Michael Bruce sets mood and tone with subtly effective riffs and tunes that invite and entice the audience to be part of the experience.

The indomitable Mrs Chasen, Harold’s Mother, is a wonderful creation by Rebecca Caine switching easily in-and-out of long-suffering putter-upper of her son’s penchant for re-creating all manner of suicides, and chic woman-of-importance with self-bestowed aristocratic genes that demand that everyone bows and scrapes and goes away impressed.

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Then there is Harold: we have here, in Patrick Walshe McBride, the epitome of the deadpan, gauchely innocent, un-worldly-wise, apparent loser who attends funerals for fun and who will cut off his hand to spite his Mum. This is a great performance by McBride, underplaying for fun – never an easy thing to do when everyone else is let off the leash, and developing a character from stone-cold, unemotional non-empathetic twenty-year-old to a real person by the end, a person of true warmth.

And, of course, he is aided and abetted in this task by the octogenarian Maude, the fizzing fireball of hope and joy and freedom. Linda Marlowe is outstanding: she’s all ebullience and mischief and optimism and has that
knowing glint in her eye that says “you don’t know what you’re missing! Come and join me in my quest for renewal and liberation!” It’s a theatrical masterpiece by Marlowe in a show that touches the soul and lifts the spirits.

Harold and Maude is a rare gem – a play about death that makes you smile. So do get down to the Charing Cross theatre (always worth a visit) because it should not be missed.

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

Maude (Linda Marlowe), is a free spirit who wears her hair in braids, believes in living each day to its fullest, and “trying something new every day”. Harold Parker Chasen (Patrick Walshe McBride) is an 18-year-old man who is obsessed with death, attends funerals of strangers for entertainment and stages elaborate fake suicides. Through meeting Maude at a funeral, he discovers joy in living for the first time. Harold and Maude dissolves the line between darkness and light along with ones that separate people by class, gender and age.

The cast also includes: Anthony Cable (The Woman in White, Charing Cross Theatre), Rebecca Caine (Flowers For Mrs Harris, Crucible Sheffield), Christopher Dickins (Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre), Joanna Hickman (Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre), Samuel Townsend (84 Charing Cross Road, Cambridge Arts Theatre), Anne White (Love in the Past Participle, The Other Palace) and Johnson Willis (Dido Queen of Carthage, RSC).

Charing Cross Theatre’s artistic director Thom Southerland directs the production, with set design by Francis O’Connor, costumes by Jonathan Lipman, lighting by Matt Clutterham, sound design from Andrew Johnson and compositions by Michael Bruce.

LISTINGS
Steven M. Levy and Vaughan Williams present
Harold and Maude
by Colin Higgins
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches
Villiers Street
London, WC2N 6NL
Monday April 2 – Saturday 12 May

Author

  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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1 thought on “Harold and Maude is ‘a theatrical masterpiece’ at Charing Cross Theatre”

  1. We had the pleasure of seeing Harold & Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre, Mar 29th, when we were visiting London for a few days before heading on to Croatia. A brilliant ensemble of actors, musicians and wonderful/fluid set design. Thank you to the cast, crew and everyone involved in this wonderful production of Harold & Maude. Absolutely Brilliant! Leigh & John from Nova Scotia Canada

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