Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Harrogate review at Royal Court, London – ‘queasily compelling’

Sarah Ridgeway and Nigel Lindsay in Harrogate at Royal Court, London. Photo: Richard Lakos

Al Smith’s Harrogate was the most striking piece of new writing to premiere at the 2015 HighTide festival (impressive given that 2015 was probably the festival’s most strongly programmed year to date). Smith went on to adapt Gogol’s Diary of a Madman for the Gate Theatre with reasonably solid results – it was smart and very entertaining, even if it felt, at times, as if it were pacing warily around its source material. Harrogate, which is now embarking on a UK tour, is altogether more honed, a queasily compelling piece, a play that understands its own capacity to appal.

The two-hander split into three scenes. In the first, a man is talking to a girl who gives every impression of being his daughter. They’re easy with one another, affectionate, close. Once Smith has located that little black line, he works away at it with his nails: how close is too close? In this scene and the two that follow he explores the intensity of parental love and its capacity to consume and mutate, as well as ideas of power and control within relationships.

Nigel Lindsay, newly cast, gives an affable, measured performance as the man, while Sarah Ridgeway, returning to her role, manages to convince as three separate characters who are, by necessity, echoes of each other while also exploring that awkward space between girlhood and womanhood. There are more laughs here than you might expect, given the dark places the writing goes, only the last scene feels a little too neat and self-aware. Richard Twyman’s production remains taut, even if the little musical hitches and twitches between scenes, designed to disconcert, feel unnecessary. The play does that work well enough.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Al Smith’s magnificently murky and disconcerting play returns for a UK tour