CHARING CROSS THEATRE
(formerly the New Players Theatre)
HAROLD AND MAUDE (play)
Ends 12th May 2018.
Harold and Maude is an idiosyncratic romantic fable told though the eyes of the
most unlikely pairing: a compulsive, self-destructive young man and a
devil-may-care, septuagenarian bohemian. Dame Marjorie “Maude” Chardin (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
(Bill Milner) 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. Part
dark comedy and romantic innocence, Harold and Maude dissolves the line between
darkness and light along with ones that separate people by class, gender and
The cast also includes Anthony Cable (The Woman in White, Death Takes a Holiday,
Charing Cross Theatre), Rebecca Caine (Flowers For Mrs Harris,Crucible
Sheffield, Christine, The Phantom Of The Opera, Cosette in the original cast of
Les Miserables), Christopher Dickins (Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre, War Horse,
National Theatre), Joanna Hickman (Off West End Award Best Supporting Actress
nominee for Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre), Samuel Townsend (84 Charing Cross
Road, Cambridge Arts Theatre), Anne White (Love in the Past Participle, The
Other Palace), Johnson Willis (Dido Queen of Carthage, Salome, RSC).
Creative team: Director Thom Southerland, Designer Francis O’Connor, Costume
Designer Jonathan Lipman, Lighting Designer Matt Clutterham, Sound Designer
Andrew Johnson, Composer Michael Bruce, Casting Stephen Crockett for David
(Sheila Hancock has now left the cast).
Under the Artistic Directorship of Thom Southerland, the only predictable thing
about visiting the Charing Cross Theatre is that the production will be
unpredictable. When Mr Southerland gets an artistic vision he follows through on
it all the way – and this is an absolutely prime example.
On a simple (Francis
O’Connor) set of skewed living space extending out past the proscenium,
Southerland keep some cast members on stage at all times, witnesses equipped
with musical instruments, to augment the action. Thus the bittersweet tragi-comedy
of unsettled minds is played out in a relentless atmosphere of calm disturbance.
Harold (Bill Milner) cries out for attention, his active brain seeking
constantly for an effect to make mother Mrs Chasen (Rebecca Caine) take notice
of him as she once did. The opening scene, with nice work from maid Marie (Anne
White), sets the grotesque tone and establishes mother and son’s relationship
with economy and depth. His withdrawal from life, her social climbing ambitions.
Nicely matched, they contrast each other while attuned as only family can be.
Harold’s meeting with 79 year old Maude (Sheila Hancock), a fellow funeral
fan and kindred spirit forms the other relationship pillar. Hancock’s experience
makes her able to play both eccentricity and deeply damaged woman to quite
startling effect. When the final scene makes all clear, her earlier performance
is all the better appreciated.
The play itself meanders a little, the odd leaden line lifted by either good
direction, acting or both. Actors step away from musicianship to take on roles
as required, leading to some interesting work. Christopher Dickins (Dr Matthews)
is a baffled shrink, calm in the face of intractable insanity. Joanna Hickman –
for whom “Hanging On The Telephone” may become her theme tune – is a versatile
parade of potential girlfriends for Harold.
Samuel Townsend, aside from a decent turn as a police officer, turns in also
either a career defining, or career ending impersonation – the jury is still
out, but a back-reference is neat. Johnson Willis (Father Finnegan) is a victim
of Maude’s actions but never lets it distract him from the righteous way, while
Anthony Cable does make rather a better Inspector Bernard than church cemetery
gardener, if truth be told.
This very individual production has its own pace, as rather befits a very
unusual story and bohemian 70s period setting. With Michael Bruce’s rather
interesting musical themes behind the dialogue, and an originality infusing the
entire project it overcomes swiftly most doubts about the slightness of Colin
Higgin’s original concept.
For those willing to invest, the reward is a very different and rather
beautiful exploration of love across both family and age divides, the conclusion
frank, truthful and oddly re-assuring even in its finality. A well-staged and
very unusual romance that will keep you involved from start to finish.
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