Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 31 March 2018
Harold & Maude is a charmingly absurd stage production by Colin Higgins, adapted from the cult classic film (1971). Obsessed with death, Harold’s homework consists of finding dramatic new ways to shock his mother into an early grave by committing suicide, over and over again. Face down in the pool, hanging from a noose in his bedroom and severing off limbs, Harold isn’t short of imagination or illusions. It is the moment he meets 79-year-old Maude that Harold starts to appreciate life. Constantly seeking joy and happiness, Maude’s motto is to learn or do something new every day and live life to the full, even if that means committing small crimes along the way.
Sheila Hancock is captivating when embodying the quirky and bizarre nature of Maude. Hancock is youthful at heart but performs with wisdom and experience – creating a character the audience immediately love and respond to.
Bill Milner’s performance against Hancock’s effortless brilliance, becomes static and low energy. Although Milner’s character, Harold, is meant to be peculiar and reserved from the norms of his daily life, there isn’t a satisfying change in his pulse when he spends more time with Maude.
Unfortunately, most of the ensemble around Harold and Maude fall flat. A chaotic clash of American accents and lack of focus distracts from the play. Samuel Townsend’s squawking seal is hilarious, but other than this Thom Southerland plays it safe with the absurd. The addition of live music on stage is nice but not groundbreaking. The entire production is kept light and innocent rather than daring to pursue the darker context of the relationship.
Francis O’Conner’s set design is in keeping with the overall theme of the play, with sky and buildings turned on their heads and several reimagined locations, such as a tree formed from a green ladder and an extruding brightly coloured block of wood. One of the more vibrant elements of this production.
Harold & Maude is not dangerous or daring, but a light few hours of frivolous fun.