HAROLD AND MAUDE
by Colin Higgins.
Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL to 31 March 2018.
Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 08444 930 650.
Review: William Russell 27 February.
Twee for Two – a play with music
Originally a film script for one made in 1971 starring Ruth Gordon as the 79 year old and several more days Maude, a free spirited Austrian widow with a past, and Bud Cort as Harold, the mixed up with a death wish 20 year old son of a rich widow it was turned into a play for Jean Louis Barrault three years later. The film became a cult success, although it originally bombed, but the play proved a hit in France and has since been performed all over the place. It now arrives in London with Sheila Hancock, a national institution if not treasure, giving the performance of her twilight years as Maude. She is well supported by Bill Milner as Harold even although the lad lacks the necessarily creepy quality the character demands. Cort was a nerd, Mr Milner us not.
His wealthy widowed mother thinks finding him a wife will solve things, Harold responds by suicide attempts and going to funerals of people he does not know, which is where he meets Maude. She takes the lad under her wing and introduces him to her mad world – she lives on credit, on theft, on being impossible to pin down – and to a life of imagination and adventure. He falls in love and they plan to marry.
Hancock is very funny, just the right age, and can time a line to perfection. Thin as a rake, gracious and patently bonkers she sails through what really is a schmaltz filled evening full of wise sayings about how to live life to the full and hints about a past under the Nazis in a concentration camp spelled out in the film. Here the contents of her box of memories are much less clearly outlined.
Director Thom Southerland, whose forte is musicals, has added songs by Michael Bruce to back up the action with the rest of the cast playing the musical instruments. It is a pleasing ploy but gets tiresome and, as the would be profundities pile up, the whole thing gets excessively sweet. But given the current fashion for tales about senior citizens on the big and small screens starring pretty well every bus pass holding broad in the British theatre from Dames Judi and Maggie to Miriam, Celia and Joanna not forgetting not quite that old Imelda there is undoubtedly an audience out there for this kind of tale demonstrating old age can be fun.
Without Hancock it would be pretty ghastly but with her the piece sails triumphantly to its bitter sweet ending negotiating the piles of saccharine on the way Southerland’s staging is effective, the set attractive, the cast diligent. Hancock has been playing free spirits for decades since her time in black bra and pants in Rattle of a Simple Man as chaps’ next door dream girl. She could possibly do such roles in her sleep by now but does nothing of the kind turning in a sparkling performance. As Australians might say – “Some Shiela.”
Maude: Sheila Hancock.
Harold Chasen: Bill Milner.
Gardener/Inspector Bernard: Anthony Cable.
Mrs Chasen: Rebecca Caine.
Dr Matthews: Christopher Dickens.
Harold’s dates: Joanna Hickman.
Sergeant Dopple: Samuel Townsend.
Maria: Anne White.
Father Finnegan: Johnson Willis.
Director: Thom Southerland.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Set Designer: Francis O’Connor.
Costume Designer: Jonathan Lipman.
Lighting Designer: Matt Clutterham.
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson.
Moss Hancock’s wig: Richard Mawby.