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When Harry Met Sally... we had a great time!



Review: Jack Foley

WHEN you think of When Harry Met Sally, you tend to think of orgasms – or at least one, in particular, as demonstrated, so memorably, by Meg Ryan’s movie character, in the middle of a crowded diner.

Therefore, one of the main reasons for going to see this stage version, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, is to see just how they recreate one of modern Hollywood’s most talked-about sequences. So was it good for me?

In general terms, yes, When Harry Met Sally is a satisfying night at the theatre, the type of which is rather like going to watch a really good romantic movie/popcorn flick at the movies.

It’s light, frothy, funny and romantic, and, for the most part, extremely well-played, by Luke Perry (formerly of Beverly Hills 90210) and Alyson Hannigan (formerly of Buffy).

It can’t be easy filling the shoes of Meg Ryan or Billy Crystal, but while there are moments you may find yourself rushing to make comparisons, for the most part, this couple succeed in making the roles their own.

And when it comes to the big set piece moment, which marks the halfway point of the evening, the climax is worthy of the hearty round of applause it received from the audience.

The sequence in question, for those who don’t know, features Harry and Sally in a restaurant, discussing the merits of sex. Harry believes that no woman has ever had to fake an orgasm in his company, while Sally maintains that he wouldn’t be able to tell.

It is just the latest in a long line of debates between the two, about the nature of relationships, and the differences between men and women.

On this occasion, however, Sally gains the upper-hand, faking an orgasm in the middle of the restaurant, to the horror of Harry – and the delight of just about everyone else!

Hannigan, who is no stranger to putting herself in embarrassing sexual positions, as evidenced by her performances in the American Pie series (‘this one time, at band camp’), rises to the challenge with aplomb, and fully earns her vocal acclaim.

It is a genuinely crowd-pleasing moment, and probably worth the price of admission alone.

But then the rest of the evening is fun, too, thanks to Marcy Kahan’s spiky adaptation of Nora Ephron’s original script, and Loveday Ingram’s effective direction, which cleverly zips from scene to scene, with only a minimal amount of set design.

The story itself features the age-old debate surrounding the differences between the sexes, as argued by two articulate Manhattan-based singletons, Harry and Sally.

The stage version begins in 1987, with Sally fresh out of college and Harry fresh out of law school, and runs through the 90s, culminating in the Y2K New Year’s Eve of 1999.

In that time, Harry makes a couple of passes at Sally, and they form an unlikely friendship, using each other as a sounding board for their respective relationship failures.

Yet, lurking constantly in the background, whenever they meet, is Harry’s initial assertion that a man and a woman cannot be friends without having sex - a point which seems to become more pertinent the closer the friends become.

When the inevitable happens, however, there are still many hurdles to jump before the couple can find true happiness.

With its sharp-eyed commentary on the nature of relationships, its wry observations regarding men's fear of commitment, and women's relationship dependency, When Harry Met Sally is a terrific think-piece, told in a perky, light-hearted manner.

And whatever you may think of the performances, there's no denying that couples everywhere might be talking through some of the questions it raises afterwards.

That said, there is plenty to enjoy in this production, not least the charisma of the lead duo.

Hannigan, for her part, can occasionally be caught striving too hard to be like Meg Ryan, but she never stops being likeable and it is clear, from the energy she exudes, that she is literally living her dream of appearing in the West End.

And while Perry may lack the sharp comic timing of Billy Crystal, he more than makes up for it in looks (the sight of his exposed bum had some of the audience gasping), while his decision to play it a little more laid back and every day works in his favour.

Of the support players, Jake Broder, as Jack, and Sharon Small, as Marie, provide their fair share of laughs, while the likes of Richard Teverson and Peter Swander frequently crop up as incidental characters, either working out in the gym, or drinking in a bar, as the central scenarios unfold around them. It is credit to them that they all make an impression in some way.

The sets, too, are imaginatively done, though minimal, while the video installations, in which elderly couples reflect on how they met, provide a nice comic diversion for viewers while the scenes change.

When Harry Met Sally may not be the stuff of classic theatre, but it's good, flirtatious, socially aware fun, which should help draw a wider crowd to the West End.

And it unfolds in such a way that audiences really should be screaming 'yes, yes, yes' by the time they reach that final kiss...

When Harry Met Sally, at Theatre Royal Haymarket, Adapted by Marcy Kahan; Directed by Loveday Ingram; Design by Ultz; Lighting, Nigel Edwards; Sound, John Owens; Music, Ben Cullum; Music, Jamie Cullum; Producer, James Tod. WITH: Luke Perry, Alyson Hannigan.
Tickets: Seating Prices: Stalls £40; Royal Circle £40, £37.50; Upper Circle £26, £19; Gallery £12.
For 16 weeks only!

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