- Bush Theatre
- Until 26th June 2021
- £10 for students
We have all had a long year. As summer begins to emerge from what has felt like a far too extended winter, it was with excitement and, if I’m honest, a little reluctance that I took out into the world to see Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s Harm at the Bush Theatre. Dragging myself away from screens, streaming, and text conversations was cathartic and somewhat transformative in itself; by the time I was sitting in my seat I was a different person. Cue Kelly Gough’s boisterous entrance as the evening’s innominate, unstable narrator.
Having initially been filmed for the BBC during lockdown, Kelly Gough reprises the role of lonely estate agent (originally played by Leanne Best). Gough’s insouciant relatability that makes her warped and sinister relationship with social media influencer Alice both wickedly funny and all too real. Gough’s performance drags you in from the start, delivering Eclair-Powell’s monologue through an endearing persona that masks the wild stares and deranged thoughts bubbling beneath the surface. As we learn more about the narrator through the lavish (if ultimately vacuous and unhappy) life of Alice, the sense of trepidation builds and I find myself desperate to know how the story ends and what fate befalls the rather ominous stuffed rabbit adorning the set.
Throughout, the lighting and sound design add a depth that makes the most of the intimate venue and striking visual backdrop of the play. Coupled with Gough’s fleeting connections with the audience and her assured use of space, the performance captures and retains attention. The transition of the monologue from the mildly unhinged to the downright maniacal is mirrored in the intensity of an electrical humming and a strong blue light reminiscent of nights spent in front of computer screens. Such lighting and sound changes are used to great effect throughout, contributing to the dynamism brought by Gough’s active performance and providing much needed relief from some of the darker turns of the play.
Whilst often providing shrewd and cutting commentary on modern society, towards the end of the performance the monologue begins to verge on the melodramatic and I found myself looking at my watch. In the same way that Alice’s perfect life and protein powder millions were never quite what they seemed, the narrative seems to lose direction in its final scenes. The rabbit is torn apart and there’s only fluff inside. I find myself searching for a message beyond a banal warning about coveting an aesthetic Instagram-friendly lifestyle, or the duplicity and vapidity of social media personas — but I am left empty handed. In the end though, I can forgive a lack of final punch for the experience of the show. Live theatre is back with a vengeance and I don’t regret making Harm the first show I see. Through the hilarity, intimacy and cringe the Bush Theatre has delivered a solid reopening show.