Writer: Simon Stephens
Director: Pollyanna Newcombe
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Harper Regan was first performed at The National Theatre in 2008, and yet in its revival at The Tabard Theatre the subject material seems almost as if was written yesterday. This solid production of one of the more accessible plays by Simon Stephens has plenty to offer.
Stephens is a keen observer of the banalities, or as a character says ‘the deadening banalities’, of modern life. Each character rages against everyday injustices; Harper’s boss despairs of the young, their iPods and their amorality. A scruffy journalist scoffs at the dreary stories he is sent off to cover, knowing that the internet will soon take his job. Harper, in her early 40s, has her own tragedies to cope with as her father is dying in a hospital in Manchester.
Without telling her husband or daughter, Harper suddenly leaves their London home to go and see her father. This episodic play is about her journey and the people she meets. It’s hardly a voyage of self-discovery, more an acceptance of the way things are. And it would seem that things are very similar to the way things are today.Characters discuss how the internet alienates people from society, how it’s easier to watch porn than have real sex. People allude to the environmental crisis and wars in foreign countries, and the occasional anachronism (Arcade Fire, Condoleezza Rice) only emphasises that after 11 years we are still talking about the same issues.
The formidable Lesley Sharp played the title role in the original production, but here Emmy Happisburgh gives Harper more vulnerability; tears are never far away, but she will persevere through the mess of life. Hers is a brave, confident performance. She’s supported by a strong cast, many of whom double up on their roles. In her debut on the professional stage, Bea Watson is excellent as Harper’s teenage daughter, but looks little like the Goth that the script requires. Cameron Robertson as Harper’s husband and, later, her love interest, is very good too, especially in the second role, his patience something of a revelation. The other four cast members are all believable and deal well with Stephens’s stylised dialogue.
The sound design, which seems to be looped, could be sharper, especially the birdsong that accompanies the canal scenes. The set, a series of screens on wheels, is efficient, if a little unimaginative, but would suit a touring production. And this revival does have the potential to go further than its short run at the Tabard. The pace does slacken in the second half, but this story of a woman battling modern life will resonate with most of us.
Runs until 1 June 2019 | Image: Rob Youngson