Writer: Harry Melling
Director: Steven Atkinson
Reviewer: Paul Couch
He probably won’t thank you for banging on about his stint as Dudley Dursley, Harry Potter’s chubby, spoiled and spiteful cousin in several of the movie franchise’s outings, but Harry Melling – now 25-years-old and way buffer – need have no fear of having been typecast if his debut play, in which he also performs, is anything to go by.
Of course, Melling had already spread his wings beyond beating up the Wand Waver long before this and has appeared in classics such asKing Lear andSchool For Scandal, as well as Mother Courage and Her Children. However, Peddling is a tour de force that will surely propel the young actor on to even mightier projects.
Peddling is described as a play but its true roots lie firmly in performance poetry and, while acted naturalistically, the careful ear will pick up the rhythm and anarchic rhymes of the dialogue that move the narrative along at an irresponsible pace.
A nameless young man awakens almost naked in a field, surrounded by the detritus of the night before. He has no memory of who he is (although he’s wearing a Young Offenders Scheme identity badge) or how he got to be there. Everyone seems to be on a journey these days but his seems to become more nihilistic and dysfunctional the further down the road he gets as each stone turned reveals another dark episode in his life.
He sells “life’s essentials” door to door for the unseen Bossman, hence the title. It’s unclear whether this is part of his rehabilitation or he’s in the employ of a gangmaster, but the detail is unimportant. The bigger picture here is the disenfranchised, dispirited soul whose life is a broken mirror that will never be mended.
Melling is a powerful, physical actor who holds the audience – in this case in very close proximity – gripped for an hour. His delivery is relentless, his physicality disconcerting. His character’s speech is what linguists have come to call ‘Multicultural Youth English’ – that weird patois hybrid of Jamaican, London, and West Coast American – and not for one moment does it slip.
As a writer, Melling’s created a complex and articulate work that will no doubt challenge actors who take it on after him. Steven Atkinson’s direction is slick and unobtrusive; indeed, such is the actor’s confidence that one suspects a lighter touch in the directorial process than is usual.
Lily Arnold’s set is simple but hugely effective. A square section of wasteland, no more than eight feet on either side contains the character’s world. To add to the claustrophobia, most of the performance takes place behind a sheer gauze, which makes the performance area a cube. It’s the kind of innovation we’ve come to expect at HighTide and Arnold doesn’t disappoint.
After HighTide, Melling takes Peddling to the US for a stint off-Broadway. How the American ear will process the intricate speech patterns and the quintessentially British cultural references is anyone’s guess.
A modern classic in the making, superbly scripted and executed.