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Sunday, 19 October 2014

NEW THEATRE’S ‘HARVEST’ dissected by me

It’s been a long time between reviews but the traveller has now returned and is ready to answer the call.

Last week I headed to the New to see Richard Bean’s ‘Harvest’, directed by Louise Fischer. You are probably more familiar with Bean’s later play, ‘One Man, Two Guv’nors’, which is a lovely interplay of 1950’s rock and roll and commedia style playfulness, complete with audience interaction, bumbling farce and the decimation of an audience ‘plant’ as a reinvention of Goldoni’s ‘Servant of Two Masters’. ‘Harvest’ doesn’t have the control or flair of ‘One Man, Two Guv’nors’ but it attempts something epic- 100 year in the life of Yorkshire farmer, William, as he journeys from young WWI soldier to legless (a war injury) pig farmer to ruthless wheelchair bound vigilante. Fill that with a large cast of bit players who feature in different parts of William’s life- his mother, his brother, his love interest, his nieces, the local squire, the German prisoner of war, the local lads who try to rob his house- well, it’s like a musical without the music or a melodrama without the melo. Sounds outrageous?  It is and its black comedy is scattered throughout the narrative but unfortunately not always mastered in rhythm and timing, especially in the first hour, when this harvest had spent just too long in the sun and was a tad overripe.

But apart from some very, very dodgy accents and missed comic timing and a desire for this play to reach its conclusion quicker than what it did, there are a few bright moments in this long play that are worth mentioning. Jeremy Waters (William) had to carry the load of this play and although there were times dialogue was declaimed and overdone, I felt like he was doing his best to compensate for his more inexperienced counterparts who struggled to get lines out and land delivery. Waters certainly has energy and skill in finding the mischievousness intent in our protagonist and damn straight, I wouldn’t mess with him, wheelchair or not.

Peter Eyers as Lord Agar/Young Agar was probably my highlight of the night. The play came to life once he entered, wrapped in his outlandish fur jacket and doing his dance of the Eskimos. Proficient in accent, gesture and attitude, Eyers was the first to capture the earnest comedy with the expert playing of English farce like an unleashed episode of John Cleese in ‘Fawlty Towers’. Benjamin Vickers was the other highlight as pig farmer Titch, suicidal and sociopath, Vickers made his rogue the most lovable of the night.

There’s some nice soundscapes to create the world of rural Yorkshire for us- from clopping horses, birds and other sounds of nature from Alistair Wallace and Tony Youlden has accentuated this with a tightening of light as the decades progress, from the lightness of the early years to a vague dim wash and deepening shadows at the end. Bethany Sheehan’s set was functional and as non-descript as you’d want for a set that has to span a hundred years. Plenty of nooks and crannies to add theatrical interest and reminiscent of my grandmother’s old kitchen in its dirty muted sunshine yellow cupboards and drawers. Small changes like the radio, updated to indicate time shifts, kept us alert to the progressing narrative. But what ‘Harvest’ truly needed was some professional accent coaching.

I think Fischer has given the cast all the tools (minus accents) and as the season progresses, this show will tighten and if they can shave off the lag in delivery, this could be worth viewing. At the moment, it’s hard going at times. There’s a lack of subtlety when it’s needed and some relationships, like William and Maudie, lack conviction. 

Kudos for the ambition of the show but it’s not reaping all that it sows. 

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