harold and maude (mark two)

12 Apr

By Colin Higgins
At the Charing Cross Theatre

It must have been a difficult decision for Thom Southerland, director of this 1970s comedy to find a suitable replacement for the marvellous Sheila Hancock. But, it was a stroke of genius to decide on Linda Marlowe. She is the very essence of the aging hippie whose existential philosophies were such a part of the seventies flower-power culture. One totally believes in this character with her disregard for anything except immediate problems. She needs to go on a journey? She just jumps into anybody’s car and drives off. She pities a seal in the zoo, swimming in dirty water. She kidnaps him, puts him in her bathtub until she gets the opportunity to return him to the sea.
Another casting triumph is the part of Harold which is now being played by Patrick Walshe McBride. Dwarfing the tiny, colourful Maude, he is very tall and good looking with a wonderful deadpan delivery until he falls under Maude’s spell and reveals a sweet mischievous smile.
The actor-musicians are a constant in the play. Many of the instruments are on Francis O’Connor’s attractive and adaptable set throughout along with props to be used later. This talented cast play many of the characters and also as in a cinema, they play their instruments to set the beginning of each scene and comment on the one that has just ended.
Harold is a strange young man obsessed by suicide and funerals much to the annoyance of his socialite Mama, Mrs Chasen – a flawless performance by the wonderful Rebecca Caine. She carries much of the comedy during the first part of the play and it is up to her and the musicians to set the tone of the production. Here is a wealthy American family thrown into a states of absolute confusion by the son’s abortive efforts to commit suicide. Mrs Chasen takes these startling events with a slight amount of annoyance but without much in the way of panic unlike the new maid Marie (Anne White) who is terrified when she finds the boy hanging by the neck in the middle of the drawing room and is sent into a tap dancing frenzy.
The show is full of tiny pieces of joy, many that I don’t remember from the first time I saw the play. Some of the fun comes from Harold and the way he deals with the crazy young women presented to him as prospective wives. Mrs Chasen has procured them from a Datings Agency and all are played by the lovely Joanna Hickman.
I enjoyed the play better this time. I found it funnier and less sentimental than the first time round. I still cannot quite comes to terms with the ending – but this is the fault of the writer and the moral attitudes of the time it was written.

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