Review: Harper Regan at Tabard Theatre

A complex, surprising and very wordy play, Harper Regan by Simon Stephens certainly fulfils the remit for newly formed theatre company Contentment Productions, whose aim is to champion exciting female leads, and who bring the play back to London for the first time since its debut at the National Theatre in 2008. Harper (Emmy Happisburgh) has spent her life being defined by others: she’s a wife, a mother, a daughter, an employee… Then she receives news that her father’s dying and, having been refused compassionate leave by her creepy boss (Philip Gill), decides it’s about time to start making her own decisions for once.

Harper Regan at Tabard Theatre
Photo credit: Rob Youngson

Some of those decisions – like the moment she crushes her wine glass into the neck of Mickey (Marcus McManus), an anti-Semitic journalist who hits on her in the pub, or when she arranges to meet a total stranger in a hotel for sex – seem at first glance random and more than a little questionable. As we learn more about Harper’s history and life back home, however, we begin at least to understand why she needs to make them. The big reveal of the dark secret festering at the heart of her family happens early in Act 2, which places less emphasis on random encounters and instead sees Harper reunited first with her mother (Alma Reising) and later with the husband (Cameron Robertson) and daughter (Bea Watson) she walked out on two days earlier.

The play is split very deliberately into eleven separate scenes, all of which involve a lot of talking on a lot of different topics, covering everything from the Internet to immigration. But amidst all these words, moments of real connection are rare, and feel more precious as a result. Harper herself is an intriguing character, and very well played by Emmy Happisburgh – she’s sympathetic because of her situation, but in a lot of ways her blind refusal to constructively engage with her problems (however relatable it might be) is infuriating. As the play ends, it’s hard to define exactly what journey she’s been on over the past two days, or to tell if anything in her life is really going to change.

With Happisburgh appearing in every scene, the other six members of the impressive cast play ten characters between them. Cameron Robertson neatly encapsulates in his performance the differences between Harper’s husband Seth and her one-off lover James, while Joseph Langdon turns the millennial stereotype on its head as two of the youngest and most insightful characters, both of them played with charisma and humour. A special mention also to Bea Watson, who makes a confident professional debut in this production, standing out particularly as Harper’s confused and isolated teenage daughter Sarah.

Harper Regan at Tabard Theatre
Photo credit: Rob Youngson

Pollyanna Newcombe’s production keeps the staging relatively simple, with well-chosen props and use of ambient sound and lighting effects to bring each location believably to life. The play is also notable for its carefully choreographed scene changes, which are not only enjoyable to watch but also allow the audience a little bit of processing time – something that we don’t get a lot of during the dialogue-heavy scenes.

Though the content of the play occasionally shows its age, the themes it explores continue to resonate, and it’s refreshing to experience a story that’s so definitively led by a female character and cast member. This is an accomplished debut production with some great performances, and though Harper’s final destination doesn’t entirely satisfy, her journey is still well worth a watch.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… šŸ˜‰

Theatre round-up: 19 July 2015

Just the two trips this week…

Shakespeare’s R&J

A unique take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which four students at a strict boys’ boarding school read extracts from the play to each other after class. What starts out as a bit of fun soon turns more serious as story and real life merge, and the boys are forced to confront their feelings of love, jealousy and friendship. The result is funny, moving and at times violent, and though the words may be familiar, this is unlike any adaptation of Romeo and Juliet I’ve ever seen.

The play itself, by Joe Calarco, was written almost twenty years ago, andĀ has been performed all over the world, including the West End. This production by the Chapel Lane Theatre Company features an impressive young cast, and will be at the Tabard Theatre until 8th August.

Shakespeare’s R&J review for

The Gathered Leaves

A family drama written by Andrew Keatley and directed by Antony Eden, The Gathered Leaves explores the complex relationships between three generations of the Pennington family. For the first time in seventeen years, the whole family are all together for the long Easter weekend, trying to put the past behind them in the face of an uncertain future.

An excellent cast is led by Jane Asher and Clive Francis as William and Olivia Pennington, along with Asher’s real-life daughter Katie Scarfe, and father-son duo Alexander and Tom Hanson. But for me, the star of the show is Nick Sampson, who’s delightful asĀ the Penningtons’ autistic son, Samuel. The Gathered LeavesĀ is a story of one family on the brink of significant change, but is also a more general reflection on what family really means. It’s on at Park Theatre until 15th August.

The Gathered Leaves review for

The Gathered Leaves and Shakespeare's R&J

Next week’s theatre

A Land Without People (Palindrome Productions), The Courtyard

To She Or Not To She (Joue le Genre), Morley College