Reviews for Friends #18: Harvey at The REP

I didn’t know what to expect from this last minute booking but I’m very glad I took a punt on this offbeat gem.

For those of you (like me) unfamiliar with the 1950 film starring James Stewart, Harvey is the strangely heartwarming tale of Mr Elwood P. Dowd and his long suffering family who become increasingly concerned, not to mention mortified and socially stunted, by Elwood unusual behaviour. You see, Elwood - a man of 45, wealthy and respected in society - is convinced he has a friend called Harvey, a 6ft 3 white rabbit. Invisible to everyone but Elwood - or is he? - Harvey’s presence in the Dowd household becomes intolerable. Elwood’s sister, exhausted from the cover up and anxious for her daughter to enjoy a smooth passage into adulthood with her reputation unstained, attempts to incarcerate her brother into a psychiatric institution, only to find the tables somewhat turned.

What could have been a farcical and tasteless romp through the painful subjects of alcoholism and mental illness, the REP’s clever production of Harvey is touching and thoughtful under it’s frothy surface, encouraging the audience to question their own perceptions of sanity and well-being in a world all too heavy with loss and loneliness. What harm can a big white rabbit really do, anyway? And as other, apparently ‘sane’, cast members begin to ‘see’ Harvey too, we are invited to indulge in a little dose of our own make-believe.

James Dreyfuss is wonderful in the leading role. Childishly jovial, he plays Elwood with real bounce - reserving a knowing, blackly comic twinkle in his eye for those of us lucky enough to be seated in the front row. Maureen Lipman is, as ever, utterly compelling and what wonderful comic timing she displayed throughout. There is also an unexpected turn from the original Mr Collins (for any Austen buffs out there) with David Bamber in the role of blustering institute owner, Mr Chumley.

A final note must be made to the set - simply as magical as the story. I’ll say no more - catch Harvey before he really does disappear!

 
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