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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. He went on to write a smart, entertaining adaptation of Gogol’s Diary of a Madman for the Gate Theatre.

Now Harrogate is embarking on a UK tour. It’s a queasily compelling piece, a play that understands its own capacity to appal. The two-hander is split into three scenes. In the first of these, a man is talking to a girl who we initially believe to be his daughter. They’re easy with one another, affectionate, close. Things aren’t quite how they seem though. Once Smith has located that little black line of uneasiness, he picks at it: when it comes to fathers and daughters how close is too close?

In this scene and the two that follow Smith explores the intensity of parental love and its capacity to consume people. He also examines ideas of power and control within relationships.

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

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Al Smith’s magnificently murky and disconcerting play returns for a UK tour