Thursday, 12 December 2002

Harry's Christmas, Berkoff, Dec 12, 2002

What: Harry's Christmas by Steven Berkoff, by Elixir Theatre
Where: Chapel off Chapel 12A Little Chapel St Prahran
When: Thurs to Sun at 7pm until 22 December, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

English playwright and actor, Steven Berkoff, knew what a depressing time Christmas could be for many lonely people.

His play, Harry's Christmas, is a dark, comic exploration of one man's failure to cope with the Silly Season.

Mirra Todd, plays Harry as a frenetic, almost uncontrollable, lonely loony.

Stefan Mrowinski directs him in an abstract form based on the methods of Polish director, Jerzy Grotowski. This works only in part.

The production takes us out of the realistic and ordinary and into a metaphoric world in which Harry's broken thoughts are represented in convulsive and unpredictable movements.

Todd cavorts and leaps in a large open space. He runs in circles, contorting his body and babbling at his audience.

In Berkoff's script, Harry collects his handful of Christmas cards and hangs them in his bed-sitter.  In Mrowinski's production, Harry instead holds a deck of playing cards, symbolising that his luck is out.

Berkoff's language exaggerates superbly the fractured mind of this sad little man with no friends. His thoughts leap from topic to topic like a bird pecking seeds.

Harry wants company. The only call he receives is from his ailing, aging mum. He franticly phones a couple he knows to come for a drink. He rings an ex-girlfriend only to abuse her.

His plan to invite another for a drink is foiled when he discovers she is happily partnered.

This play can be hilarious as well as grim. This production lacks colour and dynamic range. Much of the humour is lost amidst the tension of its form.

Todd's performance is a good attempt at this play but it misses the mark on some levels.

His voice is monotonous, grating and stuck in the throat. He seems disconnected from the text and even from the movement.

The set design by Rashelle McHugh, comprising banners of playing cards, is interesting but seems inappropriate.

Lighting design, by Bernard Angell, often leaves the actor in darkness and us in stark white light.

This lighting technique can work if it offsets dialogue in darkness or some attack on the audience. However, in this production, it seems gratuitous.

By Kate Herbert

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