Review of Harrogate by Emelia Marshall Lovsey
Harrogate, a play which premiered at the High Tide Festival in 2015 that has been revived by the Royal Court before it goes on tour, is another champion play by the brilliant Al Smith. Harrogate follows the story of three women and a jobless father who misses the past and is desperate to control his daughter. Throughout the play he struggles to control and suppress his dark sexual desire which would ultimately destroy his family. The play opens with an overly concerned father questioning his daughter about the clothes she wears, make up and even her love life- whilst pouring her a Bailey’s. Or is something else happening here… The subtext of the scene seems sinister from the offset yet it is so subtle it could easily be missed. To say more about the plot would spoil the many twists and turns of this masterfully written and crafted piece of theatre.
The stage is a clean, pristine white and scarce which serves to illuminate how ‘dark’ what is happening on stage really is. The lighting and sound choices add another element of sinister to the audience’s already troubling sense of unease, something is not right here. Richard Twyman directs this piece beautifully, keeping a fast pace throughout and constant sense of imminent fear. The show is unwatchable in moments and completely compelling at the same time. For one woman in the audience it was all too much and she left crying. Yet that’s the genius of the piece, nothing really needs to happen for it to be shocking and disturbing- one father, trying, with various degrees of success to suppress his thoughts and at the same time ‘indulge’ them without going there, is enough to send shivers down your spine.
This play is performed excellently by Nigel Lindsay playing Him and Sarah Ridgeway playing Her, Her being three different women. The subtle differences in Him when he interacts with each woman is fascinating. The subtle nuances of Ridgeway’s performance for each character are equally as intriguing. So are the unsettling similarities between the characters; particularly the mother and daughter, whose generational mirroring along with the use of reverb seems to imply perhaps that a person’s child echoes their sexual partner. The outstanding performance given from Ridgeway forces the audience to ask uncomfortable questions about how different each of these women really are and with that it explores male sexuality. In particular their possible tendency towards younger women. Her performance is nothing short of extraordinary.
The dirtied relationships Him has with Her, the teasing uncertainty that this play is fuelled by and the unspeakable thoughts that eek out in the final scene where the anti is upped- makes for exceptional theatre. From scene to scene this show gets more and more compelling. Al Smith’s writing with sharp wit, clever dialogue and a dark, disturbing tale, paired with incredible performances, slick and masterful direction from Richard Twyman- makes this production one of the must see shows of the year. Harrogate is reminiscent of The Nether without a virtual world; which begged questions such as where is the line and what does it mean to cross it? Like The Nether, Harrogate’s a brave piece of writing which asks difficult questions and explores a hard hitting topic. It is also more than that, it beautifully explores how people, things and relationships change over time. A harrowing show that will leave you with an uneasy queasiness in your stomach, a real must see that is by no means easy to watch.
Harrogate plays at The Royal Court until the 29th of October before going on tour.