With One Direction having arguably left the public consciousness for a good few years (at least to my mind), one may ask why Castle Theatre Company have decided to produce a play seemingly surrounding the life and times of its most famous member. However, minutes into the preview performance of Caitlin McEwan’s ‘Harry’ (and once I had sufficiently assimilated to the mass of posters plastered with my name), it became clear this was not the case.
Without sounding overly pretentious, this is a far more interesting exploration of friendships, of relationships, what makes them tick, and what can doom them to obscurity. “It’s not a docudrama Harry Styles…it’s about female friendships” director Jennifer Baker (quite rightly) insists. “It lends itself perfectly to a student audience”. This tale of freshers desperately trying to relate to each other and form significant bonds certainly gave me the occasional uncomfortable flashback.
With two first-year leads (Michelle Grace and Hatty Tagart), this led a whole new aspect to their preparation for the roles, going through many of the same experiences of ‘Harry’s Sophie and Caitlyn. “It was all very real, all very new” says Grace, describing the impact of early rehearsals a matter of weeks into the Durham term. “It is very much a play about individual experience…and very rooted in the ‘university experience’” Tagart adds, something certainly made clear by the actors’ ability to break out of an easy student stereotype, and ‘find’ these more relatable characters. The whole female cast and crew certainly helps with creating a more realistic portrayal of this perspective, something which is perhaps not seen enough in pieces which approach these themes and milestones.
However, Baker also makes it clear that it’s not all doom, gloom and existential dread. “It’s just a lot of fun” she says. I can say I wholeheartedly agree; upon watching the play, it was clear that Grace and Tagart were having a fantastic time in their roles, from their playful engagement with the audience to their incredibly enthusiastic dancing. Such fresh-faced energy only made the later (disturbingly accurate) descent into the reality of life, love and the university bubble all the more clear and impressive, in distinct shifts in voice and movement, something both actors achieved with great nuance.
CTC’s ‘Harry’ has certainly shaped up to be a well-spent hour of escapism, with some innovative use of tech and crafted performances from two incredibly engaging and talented actors. There is only One Direction for theatre-goers this weekend, and that is towards the Durham Union on Palace Green at 8pm on the 8th and 9th December.
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.