Harlequinade Production Team

In Harlequinade you get your money’s worth: absurdity, satire and about three different endings. Harlequinade is the story of two ageing actors desperately trying to cling to the ever-diminishing limelight while rehearsing for a production of Romeo and Juliet. There is the traditional long-suffering producer, dim stagehand and overzealous extras all caught together in this very English farce.

The show’s greatest asset is the chemistry between its star couple, the famous Gosports. Arthur Gosport is arrogant, charming, not quite as clever as you expect and deeply insecure; Edna Selby, his wife, is vain, vapid and self-important and they are stars of the show. Ilya Wray puts in a marvellous performance as Arthur. He commands the stage so completely that, even as you are rolling your eyes at his arrogance you’re still hanging on to every word. His physicality is also impressive, from bounding strides to bouncing feet he brings much-needed energy to the stage.

“Watching these two bounce off each other is a delight”

Dounia El Barhdadi provides the best comic performance of the show. Her rich laugh, subtle physical comedy and expert characterisation made her a joy for the audience. However, the true magic of the performance comes from the chemistry between El Barhadadi and Wray. The moments of bickering, sweeping, ironic declarations of fidelity and laughter between these two leads are both authentic and absurd. Watching these two bounce off each other is a delight and elevates the whole show as a result. These performances are a testament to the quality of casting, direction and talent found within Harlequinade.

There is a frenetic energy to these leads’ performances and for the first half of the play they drive it forward with an intense pace that keeps you engaged. In the middle of the show, as the subplot emerges, the issues of dynamics and pacing begin to reveal themselves. There is a lull, a long scene with just three cast members on stage and no dynamic movement or staging; it is at this point where the minimalist set choices start to hamper the performance. With both of your clowns off stage, you are only left with the foils. Each of these characters work well with an energetic character bouncing off them but left to their own devices they drive the action of a grinding halt.

This lull, fortunately, is only brief but it does expose one of the few weaknesses inherent in Harlequinade’s huge cast. With 15 cast members, each with their own roles to play in the narrative, it is an impressive feat from director Emma Gibson and co-director Louis Flood to keep the cast cohesive, not to mention an ambitious project for their first play in Cambridge.

Despite its strikingness, the issues of blocking and movement inherent to any quickly produced play are compounded by the sheer number of cast members. There at times seemed to be a lack of clarity or possibly confidence with where each cast member should be on stage. This left some scenes feeling rather flat. It is unfortunate that given the many excellent directorial choices (moving props, minimalist set, creative lighting cues) that play facilitate fast-paced action that simple blocking can slow down the performance.


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With this said, Harlequinade is still not only an impressive and ambitious Freshers’ production but also a highly successful one. There was rarely a moment where the audience was silent or a scene that didn’t feature an impressive performance. Harlequinade is a play about a play that goes wrong but fortunately, due to creative directing, immense talent and a good audience this CUADC production does almost everything right.