Writer: Al Smith
Director: Richard Twyman
Reviewer: Paul Couch
There are few taboos left to break on stage; death’s been done to…well, death, homosexuality and cross-dressing are considered almost passé, and matricide, patricide, fratricide, and infanticide stories were old hat when the ancient Greeks churned them out like Dolmadakia. Dramatists, however, notwithstanding the many versions of Oedipus and John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, tend to stay clear of the prickly topic of incest.
In Al Smith’s deeply unpleasant but oddly engrossing two-hander, Harrogate, we get a sobering lesson in how power corrupts and the father/husband protagonist does like a bit of power. He lavishes money on his teenage daughter to over-compensate for wanting to get into her knickers, not realising that he’s the one being manipulated all along.
Nor does his wife escape unscathed. Trapped in a loveless and toxic relationship with a man who spends his days watching porn and rôle-playing with prostitutes while she slogs away up to her armpits in blood and guts at the local emergency room, it’s little wonder her work has become her crutch.
Smith has created layer upon layer of complex subtext, but it becomes fairly obvious early on that this is not a conventional father/daughter relationship. In fact, the whole family’s dysfunctional and, if there’s any criticism at all, it’s that none of the characters have any redeeming features. It’s hard to feel sympathy for any of them.
The anonymous father is played adeptly by National Theatre veteran Nick Sidi, who gives a performance that is underplayed for the most part to heighten the tension when his dialogue becomes oh so much darker.
Playing the mother, daughter, and prostitute is Sarah Ridgeway. It’s a big ask for any actor to portray three rôles and, unless close attention is paid, confusion may arise. Nevertheless a confident and assured performance that manages to separate the three characters just enough for the audience to suspend its disbelief. Indeed, this rôle might easily have been played by three different actors, but the fact that all three characters have the same face is even more chilling.
Directed sharply by Richard Twyman, Harrogate is no stranger to HighTide, having been presented as a rehearsed reading in 2013. Now fully formed, it adds to the list of blinding successes that the festival has premiered.
Harrogate runs at HighTide Festival unto September 20 2015| Photo Nobby Clark
Related article: Al Smith on Harrogate