Elwood P Dowd is mild-mannered and charming. James Dreyfus is such a good vehicle for this character as the actor’s signature performance, in such a variety of roles, has involved a certain kind of speech, expression and gesture. Dreyfus is expertly cast as Elwood, his exaggerated hand and arm motions, his expressive face and the softly patient vocals is such a tight fit for the role it is hard to imagine that anyone could match the ability he has to give time, space and consideration to an invisible presence quite so endearingly.
If it is possible at all to ignore the comedy manifested in the six-foot imaginary rabbit and think for a moment how better the world would be if we all had our own Harvey to consider; what light and lift it would bring to our lives. This play reminds of the values of life and the blinkered way we move through each day. It is, by its own standing, not meant to be a tale of insanity or of mental breakdown. A gentle farce describes it best, so it is not hugely funny and although I get that it is an ingenious idea for a stage play it is a little too sedate. The experience is relaxing and enjoyable; not amazing.
What it is that is truly spectacular is the set design and the interlinking construction. The Rep surpasses itself. Scene changes happen with a 180 degree revolving turn of the stage, with a motion that is so sleek that the rich, wood panelling and heavily ornamented drawing room and corridor of Elwood’s home becomes an bright and airy reception of psychiatric clinic, with stairs off, in just a blink of the eye – everything is built in and in situ and it is breathtakingly good. After the interval we see the room of the house has the same chequered floor but the scene is now a long bar and is fully equipped, with mirrored backdrops, bar tables and stools, and internal and external doorways. The final scene sees another half revolution turn back to the clinic with appropriate ceiling lights dropping into place from above just before the stage lighting reveals the scene.. HARVEY is designed by Peter McKintosh and lighting is by Howard Harrison.
Acting alongside James Dreyfus as Elwood P Dowd is Maureen Lipman as Veta Louise Simmons, David Bamber as William R. Chumley, Desmond Barrit as Judge Omar Gaffney, Felicity Dean as Betty Chumley, Ingrid Oliver as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Amanda Boxer as Miss Ethel Chauvenet, Sally Scott as Nurse Ruth Kelly, Youssef Kerkour as Duane Wilson, Jack Hawkins as Lyman Sanderson and Linal Haft as E J Lofgren, Understudy performers appeared as Charlie the Barman and a dancing couple played by David Morley Hale, Lydea Perkins, Alexander Warner respectively.
Photography: Manuel Harlan
Reviewer, Debra Hall attended Press Night of HARVEY at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Tuesday 10 February 2015. This review also appears at Remotegoat Stage.