Cult Favourites Harold and Maude Return At Charing Cross Theatre

Harold and Maude, Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 28 months ago

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Cult Favourites Harold and Maude Return At Charing Cross Theatre Harold and Maude, Charing Cross Theatre 4
Photo: Darren Bell

A trans-generational romance bracketed by two suicides may not seem ideal comedy material but 1971's mainstream flop Harold and Maude became an unlikely cult movie, making top 100 lists after a 2012 DVD release.

This new stage version says more about modern attitudes to ageing, feminism, migration and seizing opportunities than the current slew of angry fringe diatribes. And it says it more elegantly.

Sheila Hancock's 79-year old aged-in-the-wood Maude teaches Bill Milner's compulsively insecure 19-year old Harold a kind of mindfulness — savour the orange, smell the coffee, seize the day, count the stars, climb trees, do what your heart wants rather than what society prescribes. But she delivers these homilies with a lightness of touch and a subtle sense of irony that makes even the trite ones palatable. And one or two of her existential observations may just make you think.

Director Thom Southerland frames the production as a surrealist painting and the visual staging — and some charming music by Michael Bruce — give what could have been a lightly gruesome comedy, a third dimension of pure class.

Both leading performances are soundly observed, but the slightly batty slightly surreal production most perfectly surrounds what Hancock has done with her character. Although an American septuagenarian, she doesn't wisecrack every third line like The Golden Girls and the gentle Austrian accent works best when she opens her Viennese suitcase of memories from her colourful yet painful past.

The ensemble is first-rate, but the scene-stealer is Samuel Townsend's accordion-playing policeman who also impersonates the barking seal Maude purloins from an inattentive zoo. Comedy gold.

Harold and Maude, Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2, £17.50-£35 [Monday-Saturday] Until 31 March

Last Updated 02 March 2018