Have you ever found yourself, in the
middle of a crowd, suddenly wonderstruck by the notion of such a vast
number of full, complex and independent lives – of separate universes,
effectively, as far as those at their respective centres are concerned?
This, I think, is something akin to the driving preoccupation of Simon
Stephens’ playwriting. We see his characters’ conduct and hear their
words, and catch persistent echoes of something more inward and
numinous, but as far as direct perception goes we get no more than the
occasional glimpse. His characters seldom even connect directly with
each other, since such connection requires the permission and active
collaboration of all parties. The best we can do, usually, is try to
understand at some little distance.
Harper Regan walks out of her home and job in Uxbridge to visit her
dying father in Stockport. On her way there and back she encounters a
series of other figures, each of whom offers a peek at their own
worldview and metaphysic (apart from Harper’s husband and daughter,
only one other character appears with her in more than a single scene).
Harper seems oddly untouched by these episodes: Lesley Sharp’s delivery
of her lines is unchangingly affectless and a little stilted, as well
as conspicuously devoid of any Mancunian accent. In the course of the
second half we begin to realise that she is both dominated by and
armoured against her own central issue, the reason her family moved
south – her husband’s conviction for a sex offence – and see her
family’s first faltering steps towards dealing with their own
continuing individual and collective relationships.
Marianne Elliott’s staging and Hildegarde Bechtler’s design underline
the sense of encounter-and-separation: between scenes, one character or
another remains stationary whilst whole sets truck on and offstage or
revolve away from them. Although it feels to me somewhat over-familiar
in terms of Stephens’ output, I am always gratified to experience this
kind of trust in an audience’s ability and willingness to look beneath
an apparently unexceptional surface. I also owe Stephens a debt of
gratitude: if he had not made Harper, in passing, a fan of that
magnificent female punk band The Slits, I would not have found out that
they have reformed.
Written for the Financial