For those of you that don’t know, Harvey is a play about a rabbit. An invisible rabbit!
Elwood P. Dowd is an affable man who claims to have an unseen (and presumably imaginary) friend Harvey — whom Elwood describes as a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall pooka resembling an anthropomorphic rabbit. Elwood introduces Harvey to everyone he meets. His social-climbing sister, Veta, increasingly finds his eccentric behaviour embarrassing. She decides to have him committed to a sanatorium to spare her and her daughter Myrtle Mae from future embarrassment. When they arrive at the sanatorium, a comedy of errors ensues. The young, handsome, and very flirtatious Dr. Sanderson commits Veta instead of Elwood, but when the truth comes out, the search is on for Elwood and his invisible companion. When Elwood shows up looking for his lost friend Harvey, it seems that the mild-mannered Elwood’s delusion has had a strange influence on the staff, including sanatorium director Dr. Chumley. Only just before Elwood is to be given an injection that will make him into a “perfectly normal human being, and you know what bastards they are!” (possibly one of my favourite quotes ever!), does Veta realize that she would rather have Elwood the same as he has always been — carefree and kind — even if it means living with Harvey.
The play was first produced in 1944. Back then it was probably a most bizarre subject to base a story around and, with little understanding therefore a situation worth poking fun at. I’m not sure, however that the story still is able to delight as much in 2015.
This new production stars James Dreyfuss as Elwood and Maureen Lipman as Veta. For those two reasons alone, I wanted to like it. For the first ten minutes or so, I did. Then the malaise started to set in.
After the initial burst of comedy, provided largely by Lipman the story started to feel laboured. The second scene, when Veta goes to the sanatorium seemed to go on forever and I found myself looking forward to the interval. I actually had brief thoughts about leaving then but as I have never walked out of a professional production (to date!), I decided to go back for act2.
Unfortunately, things didn’t pick up. I actually spotted one lady in the audience flicking through The Metro.
Maureen Lipman, it must be said is a very fine comic actor. Her timing is impeccable and her embodiment of her character, sublime. Her accent however was questionable. Was she Irish? Was she American? (at one point even Jamaican!). It was hard to keep track of where she hailed from and this, for me was distracting.
James Dreyfuss was mediocre in his portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd. He never appeared to be fully comfortable in his character and there was more than undertones of his “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” character coming through. His accent too reminded me of (and this is a reference that younger readers may have to ask their parents about) Kenny Everett’s Cupid Stunt! Of course it was all in the best possible taste!
Overall I have to say that it is probably an out-dated story that struggles to be bought into the 21st century.
Review by Dickie Neil
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Age Restrictions: Suitable for 8+
Show Opened: 17th Mar 2015
Booking Until: 2nd May 2015
Thursday 2nd April 2015