Wrington Drama Club production of: ‘Harvey’              Thursday/Friday, 22nd/23rd May, 2014
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Harvey – Funny Ha Ha/Funny Peculiar ?                         Review by Richard Thorn I saw this production twice because I was videoing it, and the lead female part was played on alternate evenings by different actresses – Beth Burnett and Ali Taylor. Both their performances were excellent, the differences between them highly relevant to the piece’s theme, underlining the play’s insight into the vagaries of human behaviour, and confirming the oustanding strength and quality of Mary Chase’s writing. Harvey was first seen on stage in this country in 1949, and with James Stewart in the film version in 1950. The publicity for that suggested something as crude as an Abbott & Costello romp - how I now wish I hadn’t missed it. This was an era when conformity was rated highly – an era of the McCarthy witchhunts in US politics, and the behaviourist psychology of Skinner and Pavlov. Extreme medical intervention sought to ‘cure’ those who didn’t act like ‘normal’ people, with potentially dreadful consequences. By 1967, interactionist theories were taking a very different line. In trying to make sense of the actions of people regarded by others as ‘strange’, interactionists argued for starting with the behaviour of the group as a whole, rather than focussing on the ‘oddball’. This is especially true in families. Notions of positive and negative feedback showed how the behaviour of any individual is as much a function of the behaviour of others in the group, as it is because of any peculiarity of one individual. In other words, I act as I do, because you act as you do. Every line spoken throughout this play, though written in the 1950s, takes that point. That’s down to the insightful writing. The pleasure derived by an audience from these insights relies on the quality of the performances, from the largest to the smallest roles, and of the direction – in this case by Echo Irving. What a formidable task and responsibility Mark Halper took on with the title role – and what a colossal success he made of it. He WAS someone whose outlook on life showed up in his interaction with others. He was interested in them, he wanted to find out more about them, he made them feel important to him. Even his ‘invisible friend’ emphasised his essential likeableness. Mark’s style promoted some great interactions with the rest of the cast, and they reciprocated. One of the signs to me of the maturity of Wrington Drama at its best, is the quality of ensemble playing they’re capable of. So, whether it was the svelte but fragile socialite of Beth Burnett or the jolly ‘Mrs Bennett-like’ Ali Taylor, both were burdened by their daughter’s marriage prospects. Their frustrations with their brother brought out the complexities of human interaction, especially at close quarters. Julie Kirby lived out the embarrassments of the young in coping with their elders’ priorities. Kate Morley, Simon Medd, Tom Henry and Michael Berkeley reflected the potential inhumanity of crude behaviourist psychology, and the multifarious threads of jealousy, ambition and lust in any close-knit and status-ridden institution, in this case medical professionals pursuing their own goals obliviously endangering the welfare of their patients, and each quite as ‘odd’ in their own way as their charges. Chris Parnham, Margaret Morris and Peter Langley were spot on with their pastiches of middle-class social and legal pretensions of ‘proper’, conformist behaviour. In one chilling phrase, David Buckley’s cabbie summed up the whole, awful quandary we all face in trying to cope with those who just don’t ‘fit’, when he warned Veta Louise of the consequences of her “ever generous” Elwood being ‘cured’  with Dr Chumley’s sinister 977 formula – “Lady, after this he’ll be a perfectly normal human being – and you know what bastards they are.” The expression on the faces of both personations of Elwood P Dowd’s sister, betrayed their dawning realisation, so narrowly sparing him a fate worse than death. It was a formidably long piece, over an hour each half - pretty uncomfortable if you’re standing behind a video camera, two evenings running. On both occasions, the time just flew.
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