JOYCE MCMILLAN on HAROLD AND MAUDE at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 2.11.12
4 stars ****
THE LOVE THAT DARE not speak its name: once it was the love between man and man, or woman and woman. As this Glasgay! production of Harold And Maude reminds us, though, there are other kinds of relationship that also attract fierce social disapproval. Hal Ashby’s 1971 film, scripted by Colin Higgins, tells the story of a love affair between a disturbed and depressed rich kid in his early twenties, and a woman old enough to be his grandmother; an old lady whose zany, life-affirming radicalism strikes a vital chord with a young man oppressed by the demands of wealth and respectability. And even more than in 1971, the story invites us to question our ever-more-insistent belief that only the young, the beautiful, and the perfectly gym-toned can expect to be loved or desired.
There’s plenty to argue with in Kenny Miller’s vivid Tron production, which favours grotesquery over naturalism to an extent that sometimes makes the human dilemmas behind the story seem inaccessible. Harold’s socialite mother, and the lustful psychiatrist she employs to deal with Harold’s suicidal fantasies, are caricatures of bourgeois idiocy, trapped like ugly exotic flies in the stylish scarlet salon of Miller’s set; Vari Sylvester’s stylised Maude keeps easy empathy at arms’ length.
In the end, though, there’s something about the production’s vivid, graphic approach, and Tommy Bastow’s riveting central performance as Harold, that makes this into an unforgettable story about a damaged young man’s journey into a real world of feeling, struggle, and desire. It’s possible to imagine a great production of Harold And Maude for our century, one that would expose the alienation of extreme wealth, and the incipiest fascism of our approach to the perfect body. This is not quite that production; but its visual flair, its discipline, and its lack of sentimentality mark it out as a show well worth seeing, beautiful, strange, and finally very moving indeed.