Thursday, September 14, 2023

Summer of Harold

Summer of Harold – 3 Playlets by Hilary Bell: Summer of Harold, Enfant Terrible, Lookout.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, September 8 – October 14 2023.  
Published with Theatre Program at the end of the playtext, Currency Press 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 13

Director – Francesca Savige; Dramaturg – Jane Fitzgerald
Set & Costume Designer – Jeremy Allen
Lighting Designer – Matt Cox
Composer & Sound Designer – Mary Rapp
Dialect Coach – Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Stage Manager – Erin Shaw; Asst Stage Manager – Mia Kanzaki
Costume Supervisor – Renata Beslik
Lighting Secondment – Joel Montgomery

Performed by
Hannah Waterman as Janet / Joanne / Rae
Berynn Schwerdt as Gareth / Jonathan

Hilary Bell's brand new hilarious theatrical experience about adventure, obsession and hope is the description the Ensemble has put out in its publicity, but I would say it’s an intriguing perspective from middle age of young adulthood, middle middle age and acceptance of death, all done in 90 minutes (without interval)

Janet, late 50s, solo, reminisces on her adventure as a temporary housekeeper for the famous playwright Harold Pinter as a 19-year-old in 1984 (based on the true adventures of Margaret Woodward, a contributing artist to the Australian Design Centre exhibition Happy Objects 2022 for the Sydney Festival.  Griffin Theatre and ADC co-commissioned the original version of Summer of Harold, titled Window, Cricket Bat because Pinter led an artists’ cricket team.  His widowed artist wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, approved of Bell’s script).
Gareth, late 50s, ceramics artist, is bitter in extremis about his failure to be recognised while Joanne, late 50s, is sent back to bed while he raves and contorts himself physically and mentally, collapsing into a catatonic state after an embarrassing awards ceremony and eating his rival’s piece of ‘spiritual’ cheese.

Jonathan, late 50s, has brought the ashes of Rae, late 50s, to her favourite Blue Mountains lookout, where she surprises him by turning up and warning him that Miriam – my age, he says – is only after his money.

I note that Hilary Bell is about 57.   She is also an artist.  The first two plays are partly about artistic integrity and hypocrisy, while the last is about reality.  Are these the essential issues for a late 50s person with the intensity of emotion that art requires?  There were laughs, that’s true; but intriguing rather than hilarious is how I saw Summer of Harold.

Intriguing also is a hugely cluttered wall of shelves representing in Play One, Harold Pinters’ collection of knick-knacks.  Pin-point spotlighting cleverly isolates pieces significant in each of the plays.  The props department must have had a field day.  

Going with each spot is an extraordinary collection of soundscapes.  My failure to be up with the latest in serious pop music meant the details of significance were lost on me.  I (like quite a proportion of the Sydney North Shore audience) am well past 57, but the general impression certainly related to adventure and obsession – but I didn’t hear or see much hope in Lookout, which was as much about Jonathan needing to lookout to avoid being trapped by Miriam as it was about the dangerously high but beautiful Lookout point in the Blue Mountains (surely at my favourite view of the Three Sisters).

Which raises another possibility in this very Australian art theatre presentation.  Are Janet, Joanne and Rae three sisters, in the MeToo sense.  They are OK when young and adventurous – until Janet accidentally breaks Pinter’s coffee cup (even though he is OK about it – sort of), but at late 50s, though Janet has funny memories, Joanne is left a nonentity shuffled back to bed, and Rae is apparently dead (and still telling Jonathan what not to do).

I can still say sincerely that this is an adventurous Ensemble production, not for its hilarity but for its intriguing Hilaryness.