Review: Harvest (New Theatre)

newtheatre2Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 7 – Nov 8, 2014
Playwright: Richard Bean
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Nick Bolton, Sarah Carroll, Alex Chalwell, Xavier Coy Peter Eyers, John Keightley, Dave Kirkham, Annie Schofield, Isabella Tannock, Abi Rayment, Benjamin Vickers, Bishanyia Vincent, Steve Vincent, Jeremy Waters
Photograph © Bob Seary

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Nostalgia can be ineffectually sentimental, but in Richard Bean’s Harvest, it is a telescope through which some of our contemporary social concerns are examined. The Harrisons are farmers in Yorkshire of England, and through their evolution over the last century, the deterioration of community and drastic alterations of market forces come into sharp focus. There is a definite pining for the past in Bean’s text. Even the villains of yesteryear seem quaint by comparison. Modern developments of civilisations are obviously not completely deplorable, but the play does put forth convincing arguments that pay reverence to bygone notions of honour, and the debate it inspires on alternative modes of progress is interesting.

Direction by Louise Fischer provides dramatic poignancy with an earnest approach to the script’s political positions, but the production’s tone is uncomfortably subdued in its first act. Early scenes require greater levity and chemistry between actors to deliver bigger laughs before the play’s deeper meanings emerge. The show begins to take flight at the introduction of the character Titch, played with exuberant confidence by Benjamin Vickers. His broad style of comedy finds a delightful harmony with Bean’s writing, and he creates the most memorable of the host of supporting roles on stage.

Leading man Jeremy Waters impresses with a consistently charming and dynamic portrayal of a character who grows from very young to very old. His colourful and entertaining work is a reliable central focus of the production, with scenes working best when his colleagues are able to locate points of ignition with his talents. There are moments when Waters’ diction proves slightly challenging for the audience (partly due to the distinctive Yorkshire dialect), but the actor’s physical expressiveness discloses sufficient plot detail to compensate for the shortfall. The role of Laura has a similarly vast age range for actor Bishanyia Vincent to explore, and she certainly rises to that challenge, shining especially brilliantly at the older stages. Vincent’s presence is unassuming but solid, and she surprises with increasingly captivating instances of creativity as the plot unfolds, culminating in a surprisingly riveting final scene.

Bethany Sheehan’s set cleverly converts the vast stage into a more concentrated and intimate performance space, with a backdrop that helps with the cast’s volume levels. Transformations to reflect the passage of time are necessary but set changes can sometimes lack elegance, as do several entrances and exits that see actors venturing off the stage, and into the auditorium. Nevertheless, Fischer’s work as director is defined by the conviction and power she injects into the moral of the show’s story. Bean’s writing seems to glorify the good old days with a dose of convenient selective amnesia, but Fischer turns his concepts into thought-provoking characters and events that move us. It is true that we are always ready to abandon the old in favour of all that is shiny and new, and while obsolescence should be improved upon, we must always be careful to separate the archaic from that which is eternal. Nothing lasts forever but many things endure further than a single generation’s lifetime.