Tag Archives: Harry Melling

“King Lear” at the Old Vic

Returning to the stage after working as an MP for 23 years, Glenda Jackson’s decision to take the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy has made this show hotly anticipated. It’s something of a relief, then, to report that the Oscar-winning actress gives a commanding performance. Her Lear may not be the most emotional, but it is subtle and intelligent. No time is wasted debating the gender blind casting – she’s doing Lear, get over it – the delivery sounds fantastic while pathos and power build masterfully. As if confirmation were needed, it’s clear Jackson is not afraid to take risks, showing a surprising element of mischievousness during the most painful scenes.

A stellar line-up joins Jackson, but nobody challenges her eminence – which is not surprising, but perhaps a little disappointing? Too many cast members seem burdened by ideas from director Deborah Warner. There are great performances from Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks (Goneril and Regan). But overall there’s a tendency to try too hard to make a mark: case in points are Simon Manyonda’s yoga-posing Edmond, Morfydd Clark’s over-earnest Cordelia and a misguided choice of accent for Sargon Yelda’s Kent. Harry Melling holds his own as Edgar, despite a ridiculous bin-bag nappy. Rhys Ifans is less successful with his Superman costume for the Fool. There’s more to his role than being funny, of course, but some lines are supposed to tickle us – instead Ifans eats a raw egg to get attention.

With a set of projections and black rubber sheeting, designed by Warner with Jean Kalman, there are plenty of clever moves and gory touches (watch out for flying eyeballs) that provide excitement. But abandoned, surely deliberately, is a sense of a society – when and where all this is taking place. Warner wants to deal with abstracts, which is her prerogative, and some of the play’s themes do gain when treated in this way (the lust for power is seen more starkly without a context). But surely a trick is missed in making this King Lear feel outside politics? More concerning, drama is distinctly lacking as a sense of predestination comes to the fore. It’s admirable that no laurels were sat on, but attempts to make this more than Glenda Jackson’s show don’t quite work.

Until 3 December 2016


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Hand to God” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Puppets, on stage and screen, often misbehave. The simple sock in Robert Askins’ play, created to perform Bible stories as part of a church project, is as foul-mouthed and frisky as any teenage boy. And that’s pretty much the drive and destination of this funny, crowd-pleasing Broadway hit. Said to demonically possess our hero Jason, the puppet, like the devil, has all the best lines, delivering outrage and a brief investigation of religion. Better still, there’s tension and tenderness as the puppet reflects his owner’s fears, a mother and son relationship and the pain of recent bereavement. Travelling with the show is director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, creating a polished, confident feel and benefitting from a heavenly cast for this devilish comedy.
Jemima Rooper is particularly impressive as a well-meaning potential girlfriend for Jason. Also landing laughs are Kevin Mains and Neil Pearson as, respectively, a small-town bad boy and the local pastor, both shockingly in thrall to Jason’s mother. Here’s a brilliant role for Janie Dee who excels as Margery – it’s hard to pin down whether her husband’s death or his miserable life have done the most damage. It’s Margery’s son who is the focus, going off the rails in manic (and bloody) style: a star role for Harry Melling, and performed faultlessly. With precise comedy timing, superb puppetry and accomplished physicality, Melling brings an intensity to the role that carries the show – this is one actor who’s no puppet.

Until 11 June 2016


“The Angry Brigade” at the Bush Theatre

Playwright James Graham continues his hugely successful engagement with politics by looking at the history of 1970s anarchist bombers, The Angry Brigade. The first act opens on a grim basement room in which four young coppers are secretly tasked with investigating the new phenomenon of homegrown terrorism. Parallels with current concerns aren’t forced, and the authorities’ efforts are often comic, as the police loosen their ties and discover pot in an attempt to understand this new breed of criminal. Harry Melling and Lizzy Watts excel with a variety of roles: police, victims and suspects. But the act belongs to Mark Arends as the impassioned young detective Smith, whose performance is perfectly attuned to the writing’s clever drollery.

Harry Melling and Pearl Chanda

After the humorous highs of the first act, the second act may slightly disappoint. Now with the Brigade, played by the same cast of four, the laughs are more guarded and there’s less period detail to poke fun at. Whatever you think of the politics, the ideas are presented (rather frighteningly) well. And the performances are full-bodied and intense, in particular those of Melling, again, and Pearl Chanda (as Anna Mendleson), whose fraught relationship provides a necessary emotional core to the section.

The temptation may be to see the play as split into two sides of the same story, both bravely sympathetic and boldly different. But The Angry Brigade is so meticulously written that parallels between the police and the protesters are developed with estimable precision. The crafted complexity of the script is highlighted by James Grieve’s direction and Lucy Osbornes’ design, which add a visceral, shock element to the dialogue – cast members slam filing cabinets to the ground to signify each bomb that goes off. No surprise, then, that this play feels like an explosive hit.

Until 13 June 2015


Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Peddling” at the Arcola Theatre

Harry Melling’s debut as a playwright, already acclaimed at the HighTide Festival and Off-Broadway, is currently running at the Arcola Theatre. The tragic story of a nameless, homeless youth, struggling with poor mental health and failed by social services, is an original and intelligent work. With its finger on the pulse of our times, Peddling feels filled with an urgent energy that demands our attention.

Melling’s writing is poetic and, at almost an hour long, his play, in which he stars as the sole performer, is an impressively coherent achievement. The script may not carry the emotional punch you might expect from its subject matter, yet it is raw and unsentimental, clear and ambitious, taking on big issues of inequality in our society. The poetic elements work perfectly to reflect the protagonist’s confused mental state, injecting a good deal of tension in his potential for violence.

Working with director Steven Atkinson, it’s no surprise that Melling brings an extraordinary commitment to his own writing and performance. It’s intense, yes, but also unusually sincere. And Atkinson’s staging, placing the action within Lily Arnold’s startling design of a transparent box suggesting a cage, creates an uncomfortable intimacy, which adds to an already powerful night of theatre.

Until 28 March 2015


Photo by Nobby Clark

“I Am a Camera” at the Southwark Playhouse

It’s hard for a critic to consider I Am a Camera without recalling American reviewer Walter Kerr’s brickbat one-liner, “me no Leica”. Indeed, John Van Druten’s 1951 play, based on Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, is an undeveloped affair. It doesn’t help that the story went on to become Cabaret, as comparisons are inevitable and this script is a long way from anything divine or decadent. All the more credit, then, to director Anthony Lau and his cast who make this evening at the Southwark Playhouse such great entertainment.

Van Druten’s text is dated – there is barely a nod to Isherwood’s homosexuality, nor any real sense of Nazi threat. The supporting roles are also weak, although Joanne Howarth’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider, is an intriguing, developed presence. Lau’s focus, therefore, is on our heroes: the narrator Isherwood, struggling with “obscene laziness” in rented rooms, and the “young and savvy” Sally Bowles. Their relationship, a marriage of sorts that almost becomes the real thing, is touching and tremendous fun.

Van Druten’s Isherwood isn’t an entirely likeable character. He is petulant and pretentious, and Harry Melling plays him with an engaging intensity. But it’s when Sally Bowles, portrayed by Rebecca Humphries, is on stage that things really take off. Melling and Humphries create a chemical formula not to be missed. Humphries is a natural comedienne with a deadpan delivery, keeping the audience on its toes as she dips between spoilt child and worldly sage. More opera diva than cabaret artist, her Sally Bowles is the star of the show.

Until 22 September 2012


Photo by Nicolai Kornum

Written 7 September 2012 for The London Magazine