It’s good to find Wakefield Theatre Royal launching a five month 22-theatre national tour, the demise of Compass Theatre having severely reduced Wakefield’s time in the public eye – and my visits to a welcoming and attractive theatre. However, my main reaction to When Harry Met Sally was astonishment that anyone could sell such a slight and cheap production into such theatres as Nottingham’s Theatre Royal and the Lyceum, Sheffield.
I was no doubt one of the few in a good-sized and reasonably appreciative audience not to have seen the original film and I’m not sure whether this was an advantage or a disadvantage: no preconceptions, but no ground for comparison. I have to believe there is more to Nora Ephron’s screenplay than Marcy Kahan’s stage adaptation. In a series of short black-out scenes, Harry moves from being Sally’s best friend’s lover sent by her to paint Sally’s New York apartment to being a stranger, a friend, an enemy and her husband. This predictable progress takes about 12 years (and a mere 80 minutes of stage time) and the only other characters to register at all are his friend Jack and her friend Marie. In the best scene of the play (in a restaurant, but not that scene!) Jack and Marie are set up as dates for Sally and Harry, but impulsively fall for each other. It’s a rare chance for genuine ensemble playing.
Rupert Hill is a disarming Harry, able to suggest his flight from responsibility, and manages a natural delivery of the abundant wisecracks. Sarah Jayne Dunn’s Sally is more a series of gestures, intonations and expressions than a character and there is little chemistry between her and Hill, but the two pleasant principal players bear little blame for the drabness of the evening. Kosher Engler makes more of Marie than Luke Rutherford does of Jack and the two other actors are mere ciphers.
The real problem with this Jamie Wilson production, even more than a script that makes little attempt to create a coherent and convincing whole, is that the whole thing is done on the cheap. It astonishes me that for a production with well over 100 performances lined up, no one thought to produce a proper programme. I prefer not to name the designer as I suspect that the appalling set and uninteresting costumes owe much to his lack of budget. Michael Gyngell’s direction is serviceable, if often stationary, but shows little evidence of time in the rehearsal room. Ben and Jamie Cullum are prominently featured on publicity, but their contribution is mostly 8-bar chunks of pre-recorded music. Jamie doing his Harry Connick thing on variations on "It Had to be You" is nice and towards the end "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and some snowflakes hint at a tenderness the stage action misses.
And already I’m embarrassed to think what the patrons of the Theatre Royal, Windsor, will make of that set next week!
- Ron Simpson