Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

When Harry Met Sally

Adapted by Marcy Kahan from the film script by Nora Ephron
Jamie Wilson Productions
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, and touring
(2010)

Production photo

It is likely that several people in the audience will be familiar with Rob Rainer's 1989 Academy Award winning film, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The film version adapts effectively to presentation on the stage because it is more verbal than visual, comprised as it is of caustic exchanges, arguments, and debates between the two leading characters in this feel good RomCom.

In the stage version, Harry, played by Rupert Hill (James Baldwin in Coronation Street), meets Sally, played by Sarah Jayne Dunn (Mandy Richardson in Hollyoaks) in 1987 when he is drafted in by a friend to decorate her recently acquired Manhattan apartment. Sally is a journalist, Harry a lawyer. They meet at intervals over the next twelve years and their initial mutual distaste gradually develops into friendship and more. In the early encounter Harry asserts that no friendship is possible between a man and a woman 'because the sex part always gets in the way'. Although he modifies this point of view in the course of the action, the 'sex part' is always lurking uneasily under the surface as they get to know and like one another better, and almost scuppers the relationship when it can no longer be denied.

The pleasure of the play lies in the unfolding of this improbable relationship, in a series of amusing, sparky encounters which provide an end of century, New York take on the nature of relationships and the difference between men and women. The best known scene takes place in a New York diner, when Harry insists that every woman he sleeps with experiences an orgasm, and Sally suggests they might be faking it. She goes on to give a convincing public demonstration of a faked orgasm, to Harry's embarrassment, and the entertainment of their fellow diners. "I'll have what she's having," says one.

Director Michael Gyngell provides a simple adaptable set with levels, which effectively accommodates the frequent changes of scene. A back projection of New York and linking music remind us of the New York setting. The production is well paced, and moves swiftly from one episode to the next.

Sarah Jayne Dunn and Rupert Hill give creditable and convincing performances in the two lead roles. This is very much an ensemble piece, so there is excellent support from Luke Rutherford and, especially, Kosha Engler as Sally and Harry's close friends, and from Callum McArdle and Annabelle Brown in minor roles (they also do an excellent job on the many scene changes). The whole cast deal well with the American accent, and have an excellent sense of timing in the set piece scenes, notably the 'orgasm scene' in the diner, which elicited a round of applause for Sarah Jayne Dunn; and also the beautifully structured restaurant scene where the friends, Jack and Marie, invited as potential partners for the two main characters, strike up an accord and leave together.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable production for a summer evening, faithful to the original film, without being particularly innovative, which will appeal to romantically inclined women (and men) of all ages.

This production was reviewed by David Chadderton in Manchester and Sheila Connor in Guildford.

Reviewer: Velda Harris