Reviewed – 22nd May 2019
“these actors ensure Stephens’ wordy script continues to punch above its weight”
Simon Stephens is one of the great contemporary British playwrights. By no stretch his best play, ‘Harper Regan’ remains a timely and touching work fully deserving of a revival eleven years after it first premiered at the National Theatre. Presented by Contentment Productions, set up to redress the balance towards 50:50 equal representation for female actors, and directed by Pollyanna Newcombe, this is a powerful female-led production that moves as much as it shocks.
Harper (Emmy Happisburgh) is on a journey to see her dying father one last time before he passes away. Abandoning her husband (Cameron Robertson), daughter (Bea Watson) and day job (under Philip Gill’s creepy manager), she flies from Uxbridge to Stockport, meeting 17-year-old Tobias (Joseph Langdon), drunken flirt Mickey Nestor (Marcus McManus) and her disappointed mother (Alma Reising) along the way. Harper’s is a story of renewal, self-discovery, and the power of the painful truth.
Leading the charge in practically every scene, Happisburgh is mesmerising as Harper, imbuing the character with a hint of Northern edge and dash of vulnerability in equal measure. Her energy and presence are matched by a strong ensemble, but McManus’ leering Mickey stands out as a compelling mix of Ryan Gosling and that creepy guy sat in the corner of Wetherspoons whistling at women (NB: maybe this is only something I’ve experienced…). Newcombe’s direction places emphasis on the relationships and conflicts between characters, and these are well handled by the cast. For me, Stephens script needs a bit of a trim, and the actors should feel free to roam a bit more – this production felt very still. That said, these actors ensure Stephens’ wordy script continues to punch above its weight.
The contemporary set of gauze flats and well-chosen location indicators keeps the production design simple but effective, and allows for some cool lighting transitions. Scene changes are expertly choreographed and often come as a gasp-inducing shock to the Tabard audience. Why can’t all scene changes in theatre be as interesting to watch as these?
A punchy drama of redemption, ‘Harper Regan’ is a real Northern Powerhouse of a play, and this is astounding work from a cast that will only get better as the run continues and they learn to sit more comfortably in their intriguing and nuanced characters.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Rob Youngson
Tabard Theatre until 1st June
Previously reviewed at this venue: