Honestly, who wouldn’t want a companion who is loyal, tidy and..invisible..oh and a rabbit?! This is the question I asked myself when Official Theatre http://www.officialtheatre.com/ sent fellow blogger Jonathan http://www.flaneur.me.uk/ and myself to see the 1944 comedic play Harvey by Mary Chase, at The Theatre Royal Haymarket.
James Dreyfus is Elwood P Dowd, a middle aged bachelor who has one of the sunniest dispositions of any character I have seen in recent times. He has inherited his Mother’s rather grand house after being by her side when she died and Elwood’s sister Veta (Maureen Lipman) and her daughter Myrtle-Mae (Ingrid Oliver) have now come to reside with him. How cosy this family unit seems, well it would be if there wasn’t the small hindrance of Elwood’s friendship with an invisible 6ft white rabbit called Harvey. Veta tries to get her brother sectioned at a sanatorium for his own sake, but mostly for that of her family’s good name. What then entails is the neurotic Veta being mistakenly sectioned instead of Elwood and then a man hunt ensuing for her brother ( or should I say rabbit hunt?).
Dreyfus is perfectly cast as the eternally optimistic, charming and very eccentric Elwood. I had my reservations at the beginning of Harvey that Dreyfus might be a little manic in the role but director Lindsay Posner has made sure the staging wasn’t too frantic. His American accent did waver in places during the first Act, but Elwood is such a hilarious character that Dreyfus’ interaction with Harvey more than compensates. Him reaching up to clean Harvey’s ears is very convincing and shows his great mime talent. The slapstick naivety of Dreyfus compliments the often dry humour of Lipman who gave an exceptional performance as the long suffering Veta who really did make me laugh out loud especially her one liners to her downtrodden and timid daughter Myrtle-Mae.
David Bamber as Doctor Chumley was a bit too reserved I would have preferred a lot more pomp from him but overall there was a strong supporting cast that got the ‘screwball genre’ just right. With an authentic 1940’s feel to the production that captured a long gone era that I thought was rather touching even if this wasn’t the original intention.
Although some dialogue did at times seem quite static in it’s delivery, the overall direction from Posner was very impressive with a fluidity in the transitions between scenes. The second Act seemed slightly more fast paced than the first which ultimately did mean the climax of the play did feel slightly rushed.
With such great and skilled performances from the two leads James Dreyfus and Maureen Lipman, it is safe to say the title star was somewhat over shadowed by these two charismatic actors. This wonderful production is not without its flaws but is a testament to writer Mary Chase’s witty script that has definitely stood the test of time, helped by the performances of exquisite actors.
Harvey is at The Theatre Royal Haymarket until 2nd May 2015