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Harper Regan

Contemporary theatre is filled with examples of dysfunctional families, abusive relationships, and truncated communications, rarely finding its way out of the bleak, emotional landscape of the consumer-driven corporate state. So, when a play breaks through these psychological and spiritual barriers and offers us hope in the face of difficult odds, it's a cause for celebration.

Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan
Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan
Photo: Kevin Cummins
In Simon Stephens' newest work, Harper Regan, now receiving it's world premiere at the National Theatre in London, the title character, a 41-year old working mother, defends her soul against multiple simultaneous crises: her father just had a stroke, her boss refuses to let her take time off to see her dad, and she is the sole support for her college-aged daughter, since her husband, an environmental architect, has been found guilty on child pornography charges.

You're right if you think that this could easily turn into your run-of-the-mill soap opera, and, in fact, at the end of the first act, the audience can be forgiven for thinking this as well, but in the second act Stephens reveals himself to be a profoundly visionary and insightful writer capable of finding redemption in Harper's darkest hour, weaving an impressively detailed and complex web of emotions that reveal interpersonal dynamics rarely touched upon let alone reconciled: at the end of the story, we find ourselves amazed at the journey's edgy but uplifting destination.

Lesley Sharp, in the title role, finds the common thread in Harper's quirky choices and unique perspective, compelling us to join her as she sets sail into an uncertain and disturbing future.

Michael Mears, as Elwood Barnes, Harper's boss, sets an ominous tone as the uncaring, money-centered boss who finds it incredulous that Harper feels entitled to a few days off after 34 weeks without a vacation. Mears low-key approach impressively avoids overselling Barnes complete self-absorption and soulless point-of-view, allowing us to seeth right along with Harper.

Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan and Nick Sidi as Seth Regan
Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan
and Nick Sidi as Seth Regan
Photo: Kevin Cummins
Stephen's sets up Harper's husband, Seth Regan, as victim of an overzealous moral crusade—who, played by Nick Sidi, comes across as a nice guy with an uncomplicated approach to a difficult situation—without allowing us to completely remove our doubts.


Jessica Raine as Sarah Regan and Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan
Jessica Raine as Sarah Regan
and Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan
Photo: Kevin Cummins

Harper and Seth's daugher, Sarah, is at that difficult age, still dependent on her parents for an education, but too intelligent and mature to forego leveraging her position as an only child in the middle of a difficult marriage. Jessica Raine consistenly finds the right notes, balancing Sarah's insecurities and insights.

Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan and Susan Brown as Alison Woolley
Lesley Sharp as Harper Regan
and Susan Brown as Alison Woolley
Photo: Kevin Cummins
At the other end of the aging spectrum, Harper is sandwiched by her mother Alison, from whom she is as estranged as Sarah is from her. Susan Brown's intelligent, patient approach delivers a knockout punch that recasts events and turns the drama in an unpredictable and rewarding direction.

Director Marianne Elliott orchestrates Stephens' 11-character odyssey with aplomb, making deft use of a curiously segmented and diffused turntable to add poignancy and connective insights the the scenic interludes.

The National Theatre's production of Simon Stephens' Harper Regan runs through August 9th. 011-44-020-7452-3000.

Bob Bows

 

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