Saturday, 24 February 2018

Theatre review: Harold and Maude

Colin Higgins' Harold and Maude was another show I hadn't originally planned on seeing, but when a friend had a matinée ticket she couldn't use, she passed it on to me. Set in early 1970s California, Harold (Bill Milner) is a 20-year-old from a wealthy family, aimless in life and using his unlimited free time to indulge his morbid streak - the play opens with him hanging himself, one of a series of elaborately faked suicides he stages for attention. This fascination with death also sees him attending the funerals of people he doesn't know, at one of which he meets the hippyish 79-year-old Maude (Sheila Hancock,) an Austrian Countess whose colourful life has taken her around the world. Harold just wants to be left alone, but Maude keeps showing up in his life, quickly becoming a major part of it.

Harold's mother (Rebecca Caine) despairs of her son's peculiarity and wants to quickly marry him off in the hope it'll get him to settle down, but under Maude's influence he becomes a free spirit, casting off his morbid side in a different way.


Harold and Maude is a play about eccentrics and Thom Southerland plays with this by making the production eccentric as well: Best known as a director of musicals, he treats this straight play almost like an actor-musician musical, with the supporting cast permanently on stage behind the action playing instruments (with music composed by Michael Bruce,) as well as providing some of the props and sound effects. In a couple of the more surreal moments, Samuel Townsend's cop doubles as a barking seal Maude has stolen from a zoo, and Caine's operatic singing morphs into a police siren.


It's a risky approach that threatens to make the story more twee than it already is, but for me it pays off: To start with the play feels creakily dated, but it builds into a gently entertaining period piece with a hint of a serious underside - it's heavily implied that Maude's a Holocaust survivor, and that her philosophy of embracing life and possibilities comes from this experience. It's not earth-shettering and the production could do with some tightening up and building its energy - it's still quite early in its run - but it has a good mix of funny, sad and moving moments along with a couple of musical interludes, making for a diverting couple of hours.


Harold and Maude by Colin Higgins is booking until the 31st of March at the Charing Cross Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Darren Bell.

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