★★☆☆☆ | Harold and Maude

If you’ve never seen the 1971 cult classic film ‘Harold and Maude’ then you’ve missed out. Poignant, darkly humorous and with a lilting soundtrack by Cat Stevens, it’s a thing of beauty. Sadly, the same can’t be said about this relentlessly trying-too-hard-to-be quirky revival of the later stage play.

Harold is 18, disaffected and troubled by chronic ennui. He spends his days attending funerals and annoying his overbearing society matron mother by faking his own suicide. Maude is 80 and is a free spirit who is enchanted by life and has a penchant for petty larceny, providing it has a sound moral basis. The two meet (at a funeral, naturally) and an oddball romantic comedy develops. Sheila Hancock has huge shoes to fill (the sublime Ruth Gordon played Maude in the film) but does this admirably. Bill Milner manages to convey the blank-faced and nihilistic Harold with aplomb. Whilst the set does look like it should be hosting something on CBeebies, it serves a purpose. The problem isn’t in the play or the cast but in the production.

If this production was a person it’d be posting inspirational quotations on Instagram and spending every waking moment trying to convince you just how unique, witty and quirky it is. In other words, you’ve have blocked it on social media within a minute of knowing it. Distractingly, the cast all stay on stage throughout the piece, doing ‘comical’ things with musical instruments (yes, there’s a ukulele and someone plays the spoons, of course). There’s an abundance of little touches, like a man making seal noises, for example, and it’s nauseatingly twee and feels like a bit of an irritating mess. Rather than add to the production it just ends up a being a bit annoying.

Whilst the play does have merits with strong acting, some jaunty music and the odd funny moment, on the whole, you’d probably be much better off watching the film instead.

Runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 31.03.18

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