REVIEW: Summer of Harold
Summer of Harold
Presented by Ensemble Theatre
Reviewed by Jemma Ryan
Early last year, a small audience packed into the intimate space of the Australian Design Centre to watch Hillary Bell’s Window, Cricket Bat. The space was peppered with random objects and tchotchkes. If the objects seemed meaningless before the performance, we would certainly come to appreciate the value they hold by the end. The show was charming, quirky and full of heart. It would ultimately get developed into a trio of plays called Summer of Harold, which is currently playing at Ensemble Theatre.
As I made my way into the Ensemble Theatre, my eyes were drawn to the intimate set design by Jeremy Allen. The backdrop of the stage consisted of tall, wooden bookshelves, decorated with records, vases, lamps, figurines, and other items that would gain meaning throughout the trilogy of plays. The warm, ambient lighting, coupled with a humble green carpet straight out of the 1970’s welcomed audiences into a humble, familiar environment. As the play began, spotlights fell on particular objects as corresponding sounds played, signifying that these are not merely props, but meaningful objects infused with value by the people that own them.
The first play of the trilogy was a developed version of Window, Cricket Bat, which chronicles an Australian woman reminiscing on the time she somehow ended up as Harold Pinter’s housekeeper over the summer. As a Harold Pinter enthusiast, there was something oddly charming about a play that was not merely written by Harold Pinter, but about him. Despite only being a one-woman play with Hannah Waterman as the housekeeper, Bell offered a great insight into Pinter’s character, as well as his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. The play also paid homage to Pinter along the way, such as referring to ‘Pinter pauses’ which, to those who are familiar with his plays, was a humorous, metatheatrical nod to a key, ‘Pinteresque’ quality of his plays. This particular play, along with the two to follow, developed the idea raised in Window, Cricket Bat of what objects mean to us and how when an inanimate object is lost or broken, the loss can run deeper due to the meaning and value we ascribe to them. Sometimes, the grief can be akin to losing a loved one.
The second play, Enfant Terrible, starred Berryn Schwerdt as a turbulent, slightly neurotic artist dealing with issues of jealousy and reputation as his old friend succeeds while he falls behind. Schwerdt played the role with a deft physicality, as his character glided around the stage. He went from fits of menacing laughter to absolute rage in an electrifying, terrifying way. In this play (without spoiling anything), the object of significance was a “prehistoric dairy product” (a tiny piece of stale cheese that was touched by his idol artist). Once again, while the object in isolation from its meaning appears completely absurd. But, the play was written and performed in such a way where the stakes were raised and this piece of cheese was the most important thing at that moment. This vignette proved Hillary Bell’s ability to create immensely rich characterisation even in the span of a 30-minute play.
The final play in the trilogy, titled Lookout, was a duolog between Waterman and Schwerdt. A metal bar lowered around the stage and, suddenly, the stage became a lookout over the chilly mountains. The initially ambiguous relationship between these two characters becomes clear as the play goes on, but it is clear this place holds a great deal of meaning for them, as they call the lookout their own. The dialogue of Lookout sometimes bordered on the absurd and utilised Pinter pauses to create an awkward yet realistic dynamic between the two characters. The play deals with people evolving yet clinging onto the past, and ended on quite a bleak, poignant note.
Summer of Harold was an absolute treat to watch (who doesn’t want to watch three plays in one night?). Each of these plays has the propensity to become a full-length production. Yet, there is something beautiful about the short length of each one. Unlike the trinkets on the stage that stay put throughout the show’s 90-minute run, these vignettes pass by quickly. Every moment is saturated with emotional depth and nuance. All three plays were held together by the common thread of relationships between humans and objects and, despite being disparate in pace and tone, created an unpredictable, exciting night at the theatre.
Summer of Harold is playing until October 14 at Ensemble Theatre and this play is not to be missed!
Production photos by Jaimi Joy