Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

When Harry Met Sally

Nora Ephron, adapted for the stage by Marcy Kahan
Jamie Wilson and Andy Barnes production.
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2010)

Publicity photo

I don’t get to see a lot of television so I’m afraid that the names of the two lead characters here meant nothing to me. Also there have been so many ‘screen to stage’ productions in recent years, some a huge success, some not so, and this film with its multitude of different venues and constantly changing time frames seemed a particularly difficult choice . I was not expecting much, especially as the stage version six years ago had not been a resounding success, and the beginning with shadowy figures constantly moving seemingly insignificant props around seemed unnecessary and distracting.

How wrong I was! Rupert Hill and Sarah Jayne Dunn perform their respective roles in so disarmingly natural a manner that this show grows into a most enjoyable and charming romantic comedy, happily avoiding any suggestion of cloying sentimentality. Hill is particularly captivating with his character’s wisecracking irresponsibility covering an underlying loneliness, and Dunn so excels in the famous fake orgasm scene in a restaurant that I’m sure she turned on many a man in the audience and received a well-deserved round of applause. Hard then to fit in the equally famous quote from a fellow diner, “I’ll have what she’s having”, but Annabelle Brown as Helen timed it perfectly.

The other three actors are more experienced in stage work (with some very prestigious productions to their credit) and give excellent support, but Hill and Dunn have taken to the boards as if they have been performing all their lives (as indeed Dunn almost has, having begun her ten year role in Hollyoaks at the age of fourteen).

Marcy Kahan has concentrated on the dialogue rather than the visual aspect, with the constant movement of furniture sometimes the only clue to the passage of time, and with Tim McQuillen-Wright’s three-level set giving enough variety to bring the multitude of locations into focus and Ben Cracknell’s changing lighting enhancing each one, the film can be forgotten as the audience become totally absorbed in the action on stage.

The story is set in New York and is basically a young couple each searching for the perfect partner and involving many failed relationships sending them back on the dating scene. Sex-obsessed Harry and romantic Sally are accompanied on their journey of discovery by their friends Jack (Luke Rutherford) and Marie (Kosha Engler), and one of the funniest scenes is the attempt at matchmaking. Of course the inevitable happens and it is Jack and Marie who marry, with the groom’s wedding speech beginning with backhanded thanks to Harry and Sally: “If we had found either of them remotely attractive we wouldn’t be here today”.

The film is interspersed with elderly couples relating how they met - here director Michael Gyngell had reproduced them as voice-overs between scene changes which works remarkably well - and the show is well-paced with every word of the ingeniously funny dialogue made to count.

Jazz sensation Jamie Cullum and his brother Ben have created an excellent soundtrack, their interpretation of some well-known songs, the most prominent and pertinent being “It Had to be You” as the relationship between Harry and Sally develops over twelve years, ending finally as we knew it would - very satisfactorily.

Touring to York, Sunderland, Birmingham, and Manchester

Reviewer: Sheila Connor