(NOTE: Cast change from 31 May 2004)
‘When Harry Met Sally’ is a light-hearted romantic comedy, that concentrates on the ‘differences’ between men and women; men want sex without commitment, women want commitment with sex; men are emotionally obtuse, women are emotionally astute; men are the providers, women are the homemakers. As John Grey’s famous self-help book on relationships says, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Taking these differences into consideration, how are men and woman able to form lasting relationships?
Harry is the typical Martian man; he moves from one sexual encounter to another, avoids intimacy and believes it is impossible for men and women ever to be friends. Whilst Sally is the typical Venusians woman: she wants love and commitment, friendship and a well-ordered life. The play is about how will these two individuals ever fall in love? They meet, they don’t hit it off, they meet again and become good platonic friends and finally after a major derailment in their friendship they become lovers.
Loveday Ingram’s production is like the story itself, cute, comfortable and safe. Nothing unexpected happens, and the end of the story can predictably be foreseen in the first few opening moments and the characters never really mature as the play progresses. The script is amiably amusing, with enough one line gags and ironic observations about male/female relationships to stop one from becoming bored, yet despite this the comedy remains mulishly pedestrian. I smiled a lot, chuckled a few times and laughed only once.
The production is not helped by the stage design by Ultz. The set remains a barren empty white box that uses only the minimal of props needed for each scene. This focuses all of one’s attention on the characters, and sadly they are not explored sufficiently for them to warrant this extra scrutiny. We learn a lot about what these two people think about male/female relationships but little about them as individuals.
Not only does the use of a white rectangular space remind you that this is a movie script rewritten for the theatre, but also the white panels that slide across the stage, whilst props are changed, are used as a movie screen on which short clips of elderly couples inform us how long they have been married and how they originally met. A whimsical touch that should remind us that many of our encounters will one day be fond memories.
Both Luke Perry (of Beverley Hills fame) and Alyson Hannigan (of Buffy the Vampire fame) give adequate performances as Harry and Sally respectively. Luke Perry does manage to bring some emotion to his character. The scene in the bar where Harry meets his ex-wife and fumes with pain and resentment, or where he finally declares his love for Sally are two of the few moments where emotion is allowed to express itself. Alyson Hannigan struggles throughout the first act, partly because there is little in the script with which she can develop her character. She does manage to breathe some life into her performance after the scene where Sally famously fakes having a sexual orgasm. Maybe Hannigan was feeling the pressure of knowing that the audience were waiting for this climatic moment from modern cinematic history, and only afterwards could she finally relax into the role.
This play is far from orgasmic, but is still amusing none the less.
Production photo by (c) Alastair Muir
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “The comedy might better hit home with more passionate acting." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A dull play." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "I mildly enjoyed the evening." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "So predictable a plot." IAN SHUTTLEWORTH for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "On stage, they're (Luke Perry, Alyson Hannigan) really not very good at all." PAUL VALE for THE STAGE says, "Witty script, fine acting ."