On a clean white stage, a father and daughter engage in banter about Little Mix, his lack of cleaning skills, and her refusal to buy the ‘right’ school shoes. He keeps her in line, but lets her have a swig of Bailey’s when her mum’s not looking. So far, so relatively normal. Yet all is not as it seems, and this world premiere of Al Smith’s play weaves a twisted web of unspoken and unspeakable thoughts in a family unit hanging by a thread.
With characters denoted only as ‘Him’ and ‘Her’, the duo of Nick Sidi and Sarah Ridgeway put in two compelling performances. As the dynamic shifts in each scene of the triptych, the nuances of Ridgeway’s performance cleverly indicate the subtle differences between the multiple ‘Her’ roles, as she evokes contrasts but unnerving similarities between the three figures. Moreover, Sidi demonstrates equal skill in the way ‘Him’ delicately alters his demeanour with each ‘Her’ that visits his home. He demonstrates inconsistencies – allowing his daughter alcohol, but no make-up – but his overriding desire for control drives the plot through the ever creepier levels of warped relationships. Generational mirroring is a constant theme, with the behaviour of the parents (those seen on stage and those discussed) both influencing, and being unwittingly reflected by, their children.
Describing the plot in more detail would give too much away, as Smith’s script relies on both the sudden twists and slow realisations that creep up on the audience. There are echoes of Pinter here – particularly of The Lover in the elements of role play – but the young age of the daughter adds an additional unsettling layer to proceedings. Smith’s script cleverly uses everyday dialogue and discussion as a lens through which the unspeakable is refracted. Ridgeway has a ton of sass (particularly in her teenaged role) and wonderful comic timing, making her a thoroughly likeable character even in her most obnoxious moments. Richard Twyman’s direction maintains a rapid pace and a nervous energy throughout. Electric shocks puncture the otherwise plain set: at any moment a spark might catch, the thing might explode.
Captivating from start to finish, Harrogate is an unmissable show for anyone visiting the festival – an immaculate example of new writing with two excellent performances.
Harrogate is playing at the Pumphouse as part of the HighTide Festival until 20 September. For tickets and more information, see the HighTide Festival website. Photo by Nobby Clark.