The Meg Ryan/Billy Crystal rom-com was a highly successful if undemanding look at male/female relationships which gains nothing new in the theatre from this fairly faithful adaptation by Marcy Kahan of Nora Ephron's screenplay. In a sense, the film should lend itself well to the theatre as it's very much based on dialogue rather than images, but – unlike, say, the intense theatricality of the recent Almeida production of Festen – this show falls into a bit of a no man's land.
To be fair, Simon Cox's slick production - with a minimal set, a chirpy jazz score by Ben and Jamie Cullum, and engaging performances from Jonathan Wrather and Gaby Roslin as the eponymous leads - flows along smoothly enough in its decaff way. In a series of short scenes spread over 13 years in Manhattan, we see Harry and Sally's relationship develop from the first awkward meetings to close friendship, and from a regretted one-night stand to – yes, sorry, I'm going to give the end away as even if you haven't seen the film you will certainly predict it – full-blown romantic bliss.
Although there’s some sense of the two protagonists maturing from naïve college graduates to thirtysomethings with more knowledge of themselves and each other, this is all very much part of the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus school of gender relations. In a sometimes schmaltzy, sometimes amusing fashion, the script poses the question of whether men and women can be real friends without sex getting in the way but fails to offer any new insights or challenges. Of course, as a romantic comedy this has nothing of the spiciness of, for example, Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago or Marber's Closer, but its bland fare also lacks the witty observations of Annie Hall or Seinfeld.
The chemistry between Roslin's Sally and Wrather's Harry works pretty well as far as it goes, mutual sexual attraction developing into respect for each other's feelings. Their respective confidantes, Rebecca Gethings (as Marie) and Qarie Marshall (Jack), add some oddball liveliness to proceedings. The filmed clips of elderly couples looking fondly back on how they met – presented as Marie's video installation – are entertaining if somewhat sentimental.
- Neil Dowden (reviewed at Richmond Theatre)