Harry Clarke

The stark staging is the perfect blank canvas for Harry Clarke (Billy Crudup) to paint his fantasy world and weave his web of lies – even the title of the play is a lie! From the opening line: “I could always do an immaculate English accent”, we experience a masterpiece in storytelling as Crudup skilfully plays Clarke, the alter ego of Philip Brugglestein. As a child, Philip witnesses an argument between his parents revealing some uncomfortable truths about his father’s attitude towards this shy kid, who prefers to speak in a posh English accent, even though he’s never been to England! Philip wrestles with his identity, comes to understand that he is gay, but his lack of confidence means that he struggles to find his way in the world.

Enter Harry – out of the blue another English persona appears from Philip’s imagination – he still hasn’t been to England! Harry is everything Philip is not; a cockney, overly confident likely lad who seems to get everything and everyone he wants. Except, the layer upon layer of imagined truths that Harry spouts, leads Philip further and further down a cul-de-sac, leaving the audience waiting to see how, not if, this will all unravel. And unravel it does – he gets more than he bargained for – with all the complexities, drama and tension of another recent film on a famous streaming service!

Crudup is the perfect performer for this role. We know exactly where he is at any point, as with seemingly effortless skill, he tells this story. We know exactly who he is portraying at any point too, even if the characters he plays really have no idea who they are. He is engaging and compelling to watch. With a simple look, or a raise of the eyebrow, we know what he is telling us – the subtlety belying his talent.

While this is a one-man show, it’s clearly testament to the production company that this show works. The writing (David Cale) takes you on a complex and thrilling journey. The direction from Leigh Silverman makes the most of a simple stage, keeping our focus on Crudup and enabling us to enter easily into the fantasy world within a fantasy world. The lighting and sound (Alan C. Edwards & Bart Fasbender) add to the storytelling almost imperceptibly.

Oscar Wilde is reported to have said: ‘be yourself; everyone else is already taken’. Philip, Harry and the other complex characters in this story would do well to take his advice! This is a perfectly timed piece in an age when so many are wrestling with identity and there are pressures to label oneself in this way or that way. Philip/Harry’s story in the very capable hands of Crudup spells out the dangers to us, when we struggle to know who we are and pretend to be someone else.

This has been a compelling evening in the theatre – entertaining and disturbing in equal measure! If you get the chance, catch this show. It’s 80 minutes well-worth spending in the theatre – and that’s not a lie!

This show was reviewed on the 14th March 2024 at the Ambassadors Theatre, London where it runs until the 11th May 2024.  Tickets available here: Harry Clarke | Official Box Office | Ambassadors Theatre (theambassadorstheatre.co.uk)

Review written by Ian Worsfold

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Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

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