Harry - Theatre Review

One Direction are the biggest pop group on the planet, this is not an opinion, this is a fact. Since 2011 they have pumped out single after single, their faces are on every product you can imagine and those five young men (for arguments sake I’m ignoring the fact one of them has ‘gone solo’) have been responsible for the sexual awakening of millions of teens. They are truly a phenomenon, with a fan base and a half that would go the ends of the earth to share the same air as their idols.

Surprisingly then, Poor Michelle are the first to bring the story of ‘the boys’ and more importantly, their devoted fandom to the stage. A touchy subject, given the fan base’s fiercely protective reputation, this interwoven story of friendship and Harry Styles idolization is carefully handled by debut writer Caitlin McEwan. One Direction are synonymous with McEwan’s own time at university, and though the characters share her and fellow performer Sophie McQuillan’s names, they are not ‘Directioners’, this is not their autobiography.

Harry follows the friendship of Caitlin (McEwan) and Sophie (McQuillan) from freshers to third years. At first the pair are united by their mutual love of new pop factory heartthrobs One Direction, but as their time at university ticks and Sophie begins to focus on her studies, career and future, Caitlin struggles to keep up, falling into a toxic relationship and turning more frequently to her beloved idol Harry for comfort.

The format is straightforward, the two actors welcome the audience into their uni digs, signified by the shrine of posters plastering one wall in the pub-theatre studio, offering tea and biscuits to the lucky few on the front row. Ellie Gauge’s production flashes back and forwards in time, switching from anecdote to re-enactment with a few key lighting changes to signpost the changes.

Female friendship is far rarer onstage than we know to be the reality, and often it is simplified into 2-dimensional bitchy encounters. McEwan’s script strives to overcome this trope, whilst offering a portrayal the genuine complexity of friendship. As performers McEwan and McQuillan have excellent chemistry, we are endeared to them from our first encounters as they welcome us into the burgeoning stages of friendship, all excitement and possibility. As the girls’ lives begin to change and distance grows between them the sadness in the room is palpable.

One of the most interesting moments comes from the girls’ discussion of the nature of their own fandom, comparing the One Direction fan base to the ‘Beatles Mania’ of fifty years ago. Sophie and Caitlin contemplate why it is always girls (crying at the sight of their idol, finding escapism in daydreams) concluding that girls are simply more emotional. The characters have fallen for the rhetoric which explains away female behaviour as hysteria, thus negating any further investigation, but the production has not. We see that Caitlin’s behaviour spirals out of control because the available support systems are failing her, so she is forced to turned to fantasy; Poor Michelle call bullshit on the hysterical woman conceit.

As a first outing from a new company Harry shows serious potential.

(c) 2016 Rachael Smith

DATE SEEN 13th April 2016
VENUE N16, Balham
RUN DATES 11h to 16th April (not 15th)
Caitlin McEwan
Sophie McQuillan

Director: Ellie Gauge
Writer: Caitlin McEwan
Producer: Tim Bradbeer



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