When Harry Met Sally

Nora Ephron, adapted by Marcy Kahan
Opera House, Manchester, and touring
(2010)

Production photo

Nora Ephron's first big hit as a screenwriter—which she followed up over the next decade with Sleepless In Seattle and You've Got Mail amongst others—has been adapted for the stage and now tours to Manchester's Opera House.

Spanning twelve years, the plot follows the random meetings and eventual friendship of the titular characters. Harry initially turns up as Sally's best friend's boyfriend to paint her New York flat when he has just qualified as a lawyer and she is pursuing a career in journalism. Five years later, they run into each other for a second time in the gym when Sally is intensely involved with another man and Harry is about to get married. Another five years on, they run into one another again and become best friends, even though Harry has said all along that men and women can never be 'just friends'. Is he right? Well, the story does twist the traditional romantic comedy quite a bit but it doesn't subvert audience expectations that much.

The original film contained more than a few hints that Ephron had previously worked with Woody Allen, but it still worked very well as a quirky romantic comedy. Marcy Kahan's adaptation has not really succeeded in leaving its cinematic roots behind, as much of it consists of very short scenes that end suddenly in a lengthy scene change. The changes are mostly covered by the voices of different couples talking about how they met, which were done to camera in the film but here are audio only. This sort of works, but the first one began before the auditorium doors had even been closed and so was mostly inaudible and it is easy to be distracted from the others by all the activity of the stage hands silhouetted against the brightly lit, wrinkled New York skyline cloth. Despite these flaws, Ephron's humour, especially her great one-liners about men, women and relationships, shines through and is still very funny. The fake orgasm scene of course is included; it was well done and earned a big round of applause on press night.

Rupert Hill is great as Harry, getting the balance right between the irritating know-all who believes his opinions on other people are somehow more valid than their own and someone with a lot of good humour and charisma. Sarah Jayne Dunn seems to have studied Meg Ryan's facial expressions from the film very carefully, but she also gives a fine performance as Sally. Their relationship is believable and they both put the humour across well. Various small parts—some so small that it is hardly worth coming on for and others quite significant to the plot—are filled in very ably by Luke Rutherford, Kosha Engler, Callum McArdle and Annabelle Brown.

Tim McQuillen-Wright's set looks a bit cobbled together but does the job it is supposed to. Brothers Jamie and Ben Cullum are all over the publicity for music, but this consists really of just a bit of recorded music fill and a couple of verses from It Had To Be You here and there.

This isn't exactly a groundbreaking piece of theatre and it hasn't made a wholly successful transition from screen to stage, but it works well enough for the story and some really good comedy to still come through. Add to this some effective performances all round and this has become—despite some unsuccessful previous incarnations of this production—an entertaining, grown-up comedy.

Reviewer: David Chadderton