Theatre often lies in the extremes of our emotions and experiences, whether it be through tackling deep societal issues, telling tales of sorrow and woe or even the antics of a good pantomime. Harry, a play by Durham’s very own graduate, Caitlin McEwan, strikes a happy middle ground instead. In many ways, Harry is a rather down-to-earth play and I would challenge any student to not relate to at least some small part of this play, however trivial.
The play begins with our two characters, roommates Sophie (Michelle Grace) and Caitlin (Hatty Tagart), starting off uni life as freshers. Bonding over their newfound love of Harry Styles the pair quickly become best friends and the play explores this friendship over the three years of their degrees and beyond, into the terrifying reality of life beyond uni. Between the pair of them, this play runs the gamut of uni’s many experiences and will be particularly poignant to anyone who has perhaps experienced some of the more negative ones.
One of the highlights of the play was seeing how the two actors interacted. With the exploration of friendship being such a huge theme of the play it really mattered how the pair interacted, and this aspect of the play was certainly well performed and well delivered. It was refreshing to see how they got along with each other and the strong start to their friendship quite notably serves to make the play much sadder as the story progresses and the years go by. Furthermore, the audience was treated to several dance routines as the two friends got more invested in their icon, Harry Styles, which, amongst other things, helped to build a good amount of comedy into a play that would otherwise have been quite depressing.
The play took place in several bedrooms, one for each passing year, and between textbooks, empty pizza boxes and not-so empty pizza boxes it really did feel like an authentic student room. All the action took place in these rooms with any other actions being narrated directly to the audience retrospectively. However, I do feel that more could have been done with these moments of narration and that this would have helped bring the story more to life. For the most part this was my main issue with the play. Although the story was an interesting and original one and the acting was good, I felt that it wasn’t all that it could have been. The plot seemed to be aiming at a big ending, with plenty of foreboding woven into the story, but this promise was never fully delivered on. The climax did not live up to the expectation and although that theme of disappointment and of reality not being all it promised to be was certainly a huge asset of the play, it was still a little deflating to see enacted in quite this way.
When the play ended I was left feeling a little bit lost in all honesty. The story could have pushed towards a more traditionally happy or sad ending but instead chose to end, rather more realistically, somewhere slightly blander. I suppose that this adds to the theme of just how bewildering university can be and so I certainly can’t fault Harry for exploring university life. I just wish the themes had been built into a story with slightly more weight behind it. Every event was certainly plausible and probably even quite likely, but I wouldn’t have complained if the bounds of fiction could have been explored a little more.
Harry is on 8th-9th December, Durham Union Chamber, at 8pm.