A bunny thing happened . . .

harvey and doc

What's up doc? James Dreyfus as Elwood P Dowd (right) and David Bamber as Dr William R Chumley. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Harvey

Malvern Theatres

****

THIS was a wonderful evening of theatre with a near capacity audience treated to three sumptuous sets that were changed with the use of a revolve.

There was the period library in Veta Louise Simmons elegant home; the reception area in Dr Chumley’s psychiatric rest home; and Charlie’s Bar downtown.

In this context, a very talented cast, led by warmly admired stars, performed Mary Coyle Chase’s acclaimed farce written during the weighty period of the Second World War.

Elwood P Dowd is a warm, friendly and likeable character who has an unwavering friendship with a six-foot tall invisible rabbit called Harvey.

This delusion is the basis of extravagant comedy as his sister decides he should be confined to a psychiatric home, but it seems the delusion is catching.

The psychiatrist mistakenly commits the anxiety-ridden Veta Louise instead of her brother, as she also begins to recognise and acknowledge Harvey; later the slightly manic Dr Chumley himself is caught up in the imaginary relationship.

The complications become increasingly farcical as the story develops but it seems the happiest character in his delusion is Elwood himself.

The play which became one of the longmaureen lipmanest running shows on Broadway was later immortalised in a classic film starring James Stewart in 1950.

This production, which is destined for London’s West End, is a highly successful show. The design is rich and eye-catching. The costumes were beautiful, the lighting sensitive, the artistic direction was superb.

Musreen Lipman as Elwood's sister Veta Louise

The first half was top-rate. The development of the story, the characters and their relationships included surprises and anticipated comic rewards. The second half did not quite manage to maintain the full comic momentum of the first but that is more to do with the writing than the production; it would have been difficult to achieve the same heights of comic entertainment throughout.

James Dreyfus as the bumbling but generous and elusive Elwood was outstanding. Maureen Lipman was his sister Veta Louise, and her comic timing was excellent and her performance, as she returned from the care home after being absorbed temporarily as a patient, was hilarious.

David Bamber as Dr Chumley is very talented comic and, with his intensity and short stature, provide comic contrast to Youssef Kerkour as the care home’s heavy, Jack Hawkins as his younger and relatively inexperienced assistant and to the substantial presence and voice of Desmond Barritt as Judge Omar Gaffney.

There are some somewhat sharper satirical comments: as he leaves the conversation at one point, the deluded but kindly Elwood throws a line back to the assembled company behind him: ‘Be a perfectly normal human being; you know what bastards they can be!’ Questions are posed about the nature of normality and mental health.

But in general this is joyful and hilarious frivolity that, in such intense times as these, the audience clearly found therapeutic and refreshing. This show is set to entertain enthusiastic audiences on its tour and in the West End thereafter. To 28-02-15

Tim Crow

24-02-15 

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