Issy Snape

Walking into the empty Corpus Playroom, actors in full swing running through a scene situated towards the end of Harrogate, was an impressive experience. I had barely heard half a minute of dialogue before I was hooked – I wanted to know every detail about who these two characters were. There is a power dynamic here that is dangled before the audience, yet remains just beyond explanation. Just from a snippet of one scene, it is clear that Harrogate stands in a league of its own and will no doubt deliver as a production.

"Harrogate will be a play unlike any other that we may see during our time at Cambridge"

It is not easy to discuss what makes a play like this one so exciting without landing in a swamp of spoilers, which have fortunately not been disclosed to me. However, between the four creative voices in the room a distinct picture was painted. Anna Wright and George Solomou play ‘Her’ and ‘Him’ respectively. These roles change and develop over the course of the play, which is comprised, as Director Issy Snape explains, of “three long scenes, tightly structured.” Broadly, it explores the techniques of power and control that occur in a male-female relationship, which denigrates over time. The language is genuine, compelling and electric. The mastery that these two actors have over their characters allows the mood to convincingly change from fiery sass and witty retorts, to sudden revelations (so well-delivered I could hear the inevitable gasps from the audience).

 “[Al Smith’s] Harrogate is unique, both to direct and to act in,” Snape tells me, but what she goes on to say sums up the impression I instantly got from it with wonderful succinctness. “It uniquely challenges both audiences as well as the creative team.” This is undeniable. As you keep up with the fluidity of the naturalistic episodes that play out before you, you come to realise that there is so much in this script taken from genuine human interaction and transposed onto a captivating story which twists and turns, pushing the limits and challenging the conventions of small-scale theatre.

I watch a conversation unfold which, in the words of Assistant Director Angus Jackson, “feels like you’ve walked into it and will carry on when you leave.” Solomou and Wright suddenly transport you to their own specific situation, mentioning Nando’s, Guildford and pornography (in my opinion, themes severely lacking in Cambridge theatre), simultaneously capturing the essence of the power imbalances we can recognise so well from real life. And as seamlessly as they perform this fiction, the rehearsal pauses and four pairs of innovative feet are suddenly onstage working collaboratively to block the scene with a precision that is fascinating to watch. They laugh endearingly, yet enigmatically, about this intense scene, obviously in love with Smith’s work, referring to moments throughout the script. But as soon as I think I understand their jokes, they are back in rehearsal mode, and I am once again drawn into the lives of Him and Her.

"There is so much in this script taken from genuine human interaction and transposed onto a captivating story"

Indeed, both actors and directors have enjoyed this rehearsal process more than usual. The amount of time that the week 6 slot has afforded them allows for what Solomou calls “a lot of non-Cambridge theatre techniques” of getting to grips with the script. Spending time on really understanding the play has been essential, and it is clear that this is deeply rewarding for everyone involved. Wright explains that they are working with a play where “even in the unravelling of seemingly innocuous dialogue, an underlying motive is revealed”, and the attention given to every moment of revelation (of which I am assured there are many) will make this production into one of expert quality.

Snape is delightfully passionate about this project, feeling lucky that it has given her the space to try out new techniques. “It has been a process where I, as a director, have learnt and discovered more about the process.” It is clear that this will shine through when watching the play. Jackson specifically warns me of the moments of realisation, which have been given (both in Smith’s script, and as a result of the rehearsal process) a wonderfully layered impact, in his words, “whether it’s a realisation of “oh!” in the plot, or realising something about yourself and how memory works”. The whole team is excited for the audience to turn to the person next to them the moment it’s over, although I must admit I was ready to do this after watching half of one rehearsal.


Mountain View

Shakespeare's Monopoly over the Modern Stage

I feel confident in saying that Harrogate will be a play unlike any other that we may see during our time at Cambridge. Snape, along with the rest of her team, is proud of the fact that it forces audiences to engage, never letting them sit back or relax. My hope is that you will leave this show as I left the rehearsal room: desperate to find out more about these characters and their stories, but with the knowledge that you have watched a piece of theatre that is in equal measure challenging and enlightening about the way we all function.

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