Pros: Sheila Hancock owning the stage, with a good foil in Bill Milner.
Cons: Lacks a bit of sparkle.
Harold (Bill Milner), a nineteen year old early Emo type, attends funerals in his leisure time and has such a predilection for staging suicide and self-mutilation for the benefit of his mother (Rebecca Caine), that she has grown accustomed to and irritated by these episodes. Harold’s trips to the therapist (Christopher Dickinson) do not seem to be having any effect so her next cunning plan is computer dating. In the meantime 79 year old Maude (Sheila Hancock) appears on the scene and nudges Harold on his journey towards a more outgoing approach to enjoying life.
Free spirit Maude enlists Harold into her chaotic schemes, getting him to lighten up and try new experiences, dishing out pearls of wisdom along the way. For example, ‘Everyone has the right to make an ass of themselves’ – I guess they do. There are hints at her past and future, some touching moments and many laughs. Colin Higgins’ stage adaptation has of necessity some additions and changes, but retains many of the jokes from the cult film; check out the clothing during the first therapy session, and Mrs Chasen filling out the computer dating profile.
Sheila Hancock looks stunning and portrays Maude on just the right side of quirky and eccentric, managing to convey a sense of mischief rather than a decay of mental faculties. Bill Milner has a little-boy-lost look about him at the start, with a successful transition to a more engaged, confident and smiley Harold at the end. Joanna Hickman, playing all three of Harold’s computer-selected dates, made each one different, but equally unsuitable. I particularly liked her completely over the top rendition of Sunshine, a wannabe actress. Rebecca Caine as Mrs Chasen presents us with a self-absorbed, domineering snob with great comic timing, but a bit of depth in the character towards the end arouses some unexpected sympathy.
The set reflects Harold’s rather grey life, with more colourful objects being introduced as part of Maude’s increasing influence. These are not her possessions, of course, because she doesn’t believe anybody can really own anything. Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are just right, ranging from glamorous to what I would describe as 70s brown. The multi-talented cast also provide the accompanying music which is often a bit sombre, to add to the downbeat feeling.
This is a charming and gentle comedy touching on preconceived ideas about gender, class and age. It is a ‘safe’ production lacking a bit of edginess, but very funny, enjoyable and worth seeing. To paraphrase Maude, are you going to go and see it for yourself, or are you only going to hear about it second hand?
Author: Colin Higgins
Director: Thom Southerland
Producer: Steven M Levy
Box Office: 08444 930 650
Booking Link: http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/harold-and-maude
Booking Until: 31 March 2018