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When Harry Met Barry

Book, music and lyrics by Paul Emelion Daly
Produced by Peter Bull for Above the Stag Theatre
Above the Stag Theatre
(2011)

When Harry Met Barry production photo

Notwithstanding its similar title When Harry Met Barry shares only its rom-com genre with the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally.

What lies behind this musical love story is the cupid-cum-fairy godmother Betty Blue, and her plan to bring together singletons in search of a meaningful relationship. The path of true love of course never does run smooth and Betty's best laid plans go awry when, having fixed up the two couples in the story for a happy ever after ending, Harry and Barry find each other again by chance many years after a youthful fumble at Skinny Sue's party.

In 2002 When Harry Met Barry was a big fringe hit which creator Paul Emelion Daly has revisited for Above the Stag's current production that also includes some new songs. Not knowing the original, I cannot comment on whether his revised and new material is an improvement, but I can say that the plot is predictable from the title onwards and the show is carried on its cosiness and warmth.

The lyrics and book are peppered with comic flashes but there is nothing in the league of the film's iconic fake orgasm scene which the show's title conjures up. More's the pity because there is no substantial tension, dramatic climax or musical show-stopper. The songs suffer from some lazy lyric writing evident in the banal rhyming, ill-fitting word choices and, a personal bête noir of mine, the cliché.

Given the rather bland base material, director and choreographer Tim McArthur and musical director Lee Freeman have given When Harry Met Barry a lot of pep, whilst on the design side Fiona Stewart's set is appropriately frivolous for the piece. Sadly the lighting scheme is noticeably adrift in a number of scenes and its delivery lumpish: both could be easily cured.

Madeleine McMahon's Betty Blue has an endearing eccentricity and a great range of accents for her various personae. Recent graduates Wesley Dow, Aiden Crawford and Craig Rhys Barlow work hard in their roles but Barlow's accent wanders and Crawford's self-consciousness peaks through.

Holly Julier is the undoubted star of the evening. Alice is as thinly drawn as the other characters but Julier works wonders. Her performance is well sung, genuinely moving and wonderfully comic. Goes to show what can be done

"When Harry Met Barry" runs until 7 August

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti