Harold and Maude, Charing Cross Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Hal Asby’s 1971 film Harold and Maude is a masterpiece. Harold is nineteen and
obsessed with death. He meets Maude, a week off eighty, who lives her life to its fullest
and is constantly seeking new experiences. Opposites attract, and what plays out is one
of the most charming, unusual and sincere romances in celluloid history. Thom
Southerland’s Charing Cross Theatre revival is lovely but misses out on the sincerity
that helped garner the film’s cult classic status.

This revival is good fun, with some enjoyably campy turns from a proficient musical
ensemble. Sheila Hancock gives a graceful performance as the effervescent Maude. Bill
Milner hits his stride with Harold in the second act. His character is somewhat
undeveloped, but he exudes charm and when given a good bit of text demonstrates an
attractive playfulness.

I do not, however, buy into any sexual chemistry between the leads, which is crucial in
investing in the story. What is lovely about these characters is their total ignorance of
social expectation and perceived taboos. There is an innocence in their enjoyment of
each other that just doesn’t come across strongly enough in this production. The scenes
that are just the two of them are far and away the best, but they are often
unsatisfactorily cut short. The play doesn’t let the audience believe that the two are in
love, or even in lust. And both its leads are sexy, but they seem to have been directed to
suppress this sexiness. This perhaps demonstrates the larger societal problems of how
to present female sexuality, specifically in relation to older females. This production
is just too mainstream to address or deal with such problems.

There is also a conservative drabness in Francis O’Connor’s set design that tempers
the impression of the whole show. It is such a colourful story that isn’t reflected in the production aesthetic. There are so many wasted opportunities to explore seventies kitsch that may have lifted the energy.

It is hard not to smile, and potentially shed a little tear, at points throughout. And
maybe this isn’t a show for fans of the movie – it doesn’t match up, but that’s ok. It does
still do a pretty good job in delivering a desperately needed dose of life affirmation on a
cold February evening.

Harold & Maude runs through 31 March.

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