Eh . . . what’s up, doc?

elwood P Dowd

James Dreyfuss as Elwood P Dowd, a man who sees nothing strange about having an imaginary six foot rabbit as a friend . . . Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Harvey

Birmingham Rep

****

BEING one of the few people who has not seen the 1950 classic film version of Mary Chase's play Harvey, this quirky tale of a man and his imaginary rabbit pal is a new one to me. An unlikely concept perhaps, but a charming one nevertheless.

Imaginary characters, or Pookas to give them their real name, are nothing new. Children's stories, especially, are full of invisible beings that play delightful havoc with the minds of young readers.  

The Pooka in this story is Harvey, a six foot two-and-a-half inch white rabbit living clearly in the mind of the amiable Elwood P Dowd (James Dreyfuss).

While a perfectly normal addition to the family maureen lipmanto Elwood, Harvey is not quite so loved or understood by his sister, Veta (Maureen Lipman) or niece, Myrtle (Ingrid Oliver). So worried are they, in fact, that they take it on themselves to seek psychiatric help for Elwood's eccentricities. The misunderstandings that follow give rise to some wonderfully comic moments.

The charm of this particular kind of comedy is that it's not rushed.

The humour lies not in fast and cheap gags, but in unfolding situations and strong characterisation. At times the dialogues and pace feels filmic, but is none the worse for that.

Taking the elephant (or rabbit) out of the room, this is, of course, a play with a message.

Fluffy bunnies and gentle comedy aside, this is piece that asks some pretty serious questions about mental health and the concept of what normal really is. Elwood is perfectly happy and seemingly not away with the fairies in any way. He simply shares his life with an imaginary friend - something countless children do.

Maureen Lipman as the worried sister Veta, who, unlike her brother, is not a great lover of his lolloping imaginary friend

He may, then, be childlike and even eccentric but hardly deserving of electric shock treatment simply because society sees such behaviour as unacceptable. Things of course have moved on in the world of mental health but the questions the play asks on perception of normality and who has the right to interfere, still ring true.

A strong cast and a beautifully flowing set by Peter McKintosh combine to make this a stand out evening for a clearly entranced audience. Maureen Lipman oozes effortless humour as the worried sister, Veta Louise Simmons. A master class in both timing and delivery.

James Dreyfuss retains the huge ' likeability' of Elwood P Dowd - a man who offers no danger whatsoever and takes life simply and in his stride. No easy task, performing with what he believes is an oversized rabbit by his side, but huge credit to Dreyfus for achieving it.

David Bamber is wonderfully manic as Dr Chumley - a character with considerably more stress than Elwood, it seems.

Harvey, directed by Lindsay Posner, is something of a gem and a real asset to the Rep's eclectic programme. Take time to smile and reflect! To 21-02-15

Tom Roberts

10-02-15  

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