Billed as a romantic musical comedy When Harry Met Barry has been revived this summer at the Above The Stag theatre following good reviews in 2002 and its 2008 Italian adventure. While it’s a fairly enjoyable evening it didn’t quite have the “razzmatazz” this sort of history might imply and writer Paul Emelion Day’s updated script doesn’t seem to have made his characters anymore current than they might have been when it premiered in 2002 (or if it had been written in 1992 for that matter).
A young cast (mostly just out of drama school), they should be applauded for giving such energetic and sincere performances in a piece that might otherwise have felt a bit run-of-the-mill – boy meets girl, then boy meets boyhood friend (boy), love is rekindled and some get to live happily ever after. Musically they are all strong with the best performance being given throughout by Holly Julier who plays Alice the girlfriend of Barry (Craig Rhys Barlow). It’s a shame she isn’t given more room within the music to show off her talent - a ballad, almost anywhere in the piece but certainly in Julier’s hands, would have been a treat. This is not to say the music isn’t enjoyable but unfortunately it doesn’t have quite enough variety and by the beginning of the second act it feels a little like the same two pieces of music on repeat.
Director and choreographer Tim McArthur has made the most of the music for his choreographed numbers but in staging Harry (Wesley Dow) and Spencer’s (Aiden Crawford) budding romance on one side of the stage and Barry and Alice’s on the other he added yet more disjoint to a fairly thin script while Fiona Stewart’s black and white set seemed to compound this lack of depth being quite busy without achieving any real purpose.
Madeleine MacMahon who plays angel-come-fairy godmother Betty Blue gives a wonderful comic performance with great physicality and a broad range of accents while Dow, who has many of the best comic lines (“heart break hotel, I mean, Clapham North”) plays them with impeccable comic timing. Indeed, a strong cast all-round they work hard to give heart to a piece that needed a touch more variety and had their dynamism been present in the script, design and direction a fairly enjoyable evening could well have been rather more fun.