Haxby Memorial Hall - 30 March - 2 April 2005
Directed by Lee Harris
Elwood P. Dowd likes the simple things in life; card games, liquor, sweet young ladies, and his best friend Harvey. The problem is that Harvey is a huge six-foot tall rabbit who remains invisible most of the time, yet seems get under everybody’s nose. How do you get rid of a giant bunny that invading your home? Ask the experts? Who knows – the experts certainly don’t!
The Haxby Players chose this bunnylicious ‘golden oldie’ to perform over Easter, a gentle comedy with a strong message to be enjoyed by people of all ages. The humour was more subtle than their last outing “Happiest Days of Our Lives”, but an element of slapstick remained to create a farcical crescendo, and to add some visual humour to the wordy dialogue. The characters were expertly cast and well suited to their roles, the costumes were gorgeous and the homemade set fit the bill. However, the American accents proved an obstacle. The actors that upheld it did so brilliantly, with the accent completing their superb characterisation. Some actors struggled, occasionally slipping into RP, and some characters just weren’t American at all. This created difficulties with the speed of cues, and there were many awkward moments between lines or action. The consequence of this was clumsy stage movements and mumbled lines, delaying the audience’s response to the dialogue. Consistency would have stabilised this problem, as the language and colloquialisms called for the accent to exist. The actors worked well to overcome this issue, and despite the faltering pace the accents individualised personas to create a sense of character diversity.
When Harvey first entered, there was a tinge of disappointment that there wasn’t going to be some bloke in a bunny suit a’ la Donnie Darko, but later the script justified the invisible character with some cleverly executed visual gags. This worked to some extent, though the audience were relying heavily on actor’s eye contact to place Harvey onstage. Elwood, played by Ron Jevons, was often the only character interacting with Harvey, so there were times in group scenes where definite placement would have aided understanding better, as focus was often outward towards the audience.
Well done to newcomer Michelle Berry, who played Myrtle Mae spoilt and sarcastic to perfection, and she looked the part too. Brenda Riley, playing Veta Louise, was the epitome of the well educated, well groomed and oh so polite middle-class housewife, which just made it even funnier when it all went horribly wrong. Lady, you had me in stitches! Ron Jevons was well cast as the charming-but-gormless Elwood, though lines were a little mumbled. Brenda Sanger and Geraldine Jevons played similar roles as society ladies deeply confused by the mysterious Harvey, but to darn polite to ask. Andrew Love was cracking as Marvin Wilson, the Sanatorium attendant, though there was lots of potential for him to provide even more humour by improvising round the script. Images of him running throough the audience carrying a wailing Veta in a fireman’s lift spring to mind; he alone had the audience laughing by just walking onstage. Austin Barnett was very believable as the calm-in-a-crisis Dr Sanderson, whose naturalistic approach to his role complimented the more animated characters. Steve Wilcox also downplayed the pivotal character of the taxi driver: after all the hullabaloo onstage his quiet, thoughtful monologue provided a suitable pause before the ending, emphasising the messages within the play. Robin Sanger, Dave Hudson and Sheila Barnett all played very similar characters to those in “Happiest Days…” but there is more than enough talent there to hope that they challenge themselves a little more next time. Linda Chester appeared as the maid for her Haxby Players debut.
There was a really special moment in the third act when Elwood was about to receive an injection to get rid of Harvey, where there was a sense of deep sadness that this gentle, innocent man was so delusional; that the people surrounding him failed to understand him; that all his decency and kindness went unnoticed. “Harvey” is a play about social acceptance, with real emotion hidden beneath the fluffy exterior. Entertaining and stimulating, there was something there for everyone, and the audience certainly had a laugh. A round of applause for the Haxby Players, and a standing ovation for Harvey for a superb springtime production.
By Anna –Siobhan Wilcox