Harrogate at the Royal Court Theatre
A man meets his daughter, and shares an uncomfortable conversation. Two more scenes follow. To give anything concrete away would be to spoil the tonal shifts present in Al Smith’s Harrogate, which has transferred to the Royal Court following its premiere at the HighTide Festival. It’s a play where gestures and phrases, seemingly innocuous at the time, become like hidden mines scattered throughout each scene, the audience not quite sure when one is going to go off yet queasily aware of an inevitable explosion.
The domestic bite of Smith’s dialogue is brought alive by a pair of punchy performances. In the opening act Sarah Ridgeway balances an adult interpretation of a teenager perfectly, hinting at – without ever emulating – the kind of role playing found in scores of pornographic videos on the internet and beyond, making her shift to an authentically insecure and sincere form of youth in the second scene even more acute. In the final part of Smith’s triptych Ridgeway transforms once again, cementing a performance that finds the right amount of subtle differences without interrupting the uncanny recurrences of Smith’s Her.
Nigel Lindsay is just as impressive in a role no less difficult than the similarly coloured chameleon act required for Her. Him is exactly as advertised – a generic signifier of masculinity, a dad plucked from any home up and down the country. This is a man brought to life, however, by just about the worst secret someone could harbour. Lindsay maintains an amiability that very rarely slips, portraying a person who is trying to exist in neutral to prevent a sickening urge from irrevocably leaking out. Crucially the depth of this urge is never made clear; as the boundaries between father/husband/lover start to collapse, and age and history begin to encroach on the present, Harrogate refuses to supply any easy answers.
Robbed of this ambiguity or moral ambivalence – and, indeed, its refusal to obey the narrative it initially seems to create – Harrogate would be a different kind of play altogether, one perhaps more traditionally satisfying or disturbing, but one lacking the depth Smith dabbles in. For the play is about more than its headline taboo; it’s about the way the female teenage body is sexualised, about the invisibility of woman over a certain age and, finally, about the variety of toxic ways in which a yearning for the past can manifest itself.
Harrogate is at the Royal Court Theatre from 20th October until 29th October 2016, for further information or to book a visit here.
The show is touring nationwide: Farnham Maltings (Tue 1 Nov – 7:30pm), artsdepot London (Wed 2 Nov – 7:30pm), Harlow Playhouse (Thu 3 Nov – 8:00pm), The North Wall, Oxford (Fri 4 Nov – 8:00pm), The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury (Sat 6 Nov –8:00pm), The Garage, Norwich (Thu 10 Nov – 7:30pm), Didcot Cornerstone (Fri 11 Nov – 7:30pm), Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds (Mon 14 Nov – 7:30pm) and Cambridge Junction (Wed 16 Nov – 7:30pm).