Monday, 31 October 2016

Review Harrogate

by Al Smith

Father Takes Stock

Harrogate the play started its life as part of the High Tide Festival and, after a short run at the Royal Court Theatre,  is now embarking on a national tour between 1 and 16 November: the Farnham Maltings in Surrey, the artsdepot in North Finchley, Harlow Playhouse, The North Wall, OxfordCanterbury's Marlowe Studio, The Garage in NorwichThe Cornerstone in Didcot, The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds and the Cambridge Junction

An 80-minute two hander, it stars Nigel Lindsay, last seen by us in Speed-The-Plow, as the apparent father of a 15 year schoolgirl played by Sarah Ridgeway who also doubles as wife and mother. It's received mostly rave reviews, although it strikes us as a marmite type of play.

It's set in what seems to be the family flat, designed by Tom Piper on a clinical white traverse stage (we caught it on the last day of its run at the Royal Court) with a kitchen island at one end, two equally gleaming white chairs, and a wall on which, eventually, a photo of the parents hangs on the other.

While mining with precision the relationship between a Dad and his teenage daughter,  the play nevertheless leaves a question mark continually hanging over their identities,what is true and what is not. The script ambiguously, especially in view of Sarah Ridgeway's transformation into the medic wife in the final scene, only names the characters as "Him" and "Her".

Past and present also coalesce within a sort of audit, with secrets and reveals, of the parents' marriage and their daughter's life as words and incidents repeat themselves in different patterns.

It has something in common with Blue Heart, which we enjoyed recently, with its repetitions and the acting is impeccable. In fact, it is altogether cool, glossy, clinical and slick, even at the moments when it would appear to be at its most heartfelt - and most cruel.

There's certainly tricksy quality, but maybe the clues are there. In the father's profession of reinsurance (there's quite a bit of financial vocabulary and acronyms), the language of computer games, in the unseen mother of the daughter's best friend who has forged her career in performance psychology and the rhythm of a binary computer program at work.

This felt to us a somewhat one-dimensional play and as if it could be part of larger piece; Unlike Blue Heart the repetitions do not feel true alternatives but part of a closed circuit learning process where the memory of past conversations is solely there so that the incidents and vocabulary can be rearranged.

The father's relationship with his daughter may be unhealthy or maybe it is just he cannot let go, trying to train her to be a smart machine with a degree of independence, which includes a mysterious stay at Harrogate, but always thinking she will come back to him.

There's an undercurrent of corruption in the dialogue, although it's kept deliberately ambiguous as to whether it is commercial or sexual or both TLT and her mechanical sidekick found it a little precious, as if we were going to be tested afterward on whether we'd noticed the links between the scenes - and so then writing a review of this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Still the staccato rhythms are sharply delineated by director Richard Twyman and fluently performed even if its narrating style and stylized format left us rather uninvolved. It's an amber light for a clean-cut but ultimately just a little bit too regimented a piece for us.

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