Summer of Harold

Ensemble Theatre, September 12


Most of us are hoarders at heart. Even if we don’t cram the home with junk, we cling to some object – whether a car, vase, necklace or hat – like a dog with its favourite ball. It’s hardly a sin with a musical instrument or heirloom, but ultimately stuff is stuff, and the sun still rises if something is broken, lost or stolen. That’s what Hilary Bell’s new trilogy of one-act plays is about: the clinging and the letting go.

Hannah Waterman. Top: Berynn Schwerdt. Photos: Jaimi Joy.

The three discrete pieces have two actors and one set taking us on a shrewdly crafted expedition from comedy to weirdness to poignancy. If there was a guiding light in Bell’s mind, it may well have been Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

This is especially true in relation to the deftness of touch and observation in the first play, Summer of Harold, where middle-aged Janet (Hannah Waterman) reminisces about being a 19-year-old housekeeper for Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser. The reclusive Pinter and more affable Fraser spring to life in our minds, as Janet tells of the terrors of doing the wrong thing – such as breaking something treasured – in a starched household. The play shimmers with charm and wit, and Waterman is funny and engaging under Francesca Savige’s astute direction.

Berynn Schwerdt. Photos: Jaimi Joy.

The lights barely go down before they’re up again for Enfant Terrible, a tale of spoiled friendship, artistic envy and ancient cheese. Berynn Schwerdt plays Gareth, a ceramicist convinced he has 10 times the talent of an ex-friend who’s won international acclaim in the same game. Gareth eventually spies the chance for what he thinks is a worthy form of revenge, and this, again, has echoes of Bennett, in what is essentially a one-hander, with Waterman making two appearances as Gareth’s sleepy wife. Schwerdt excels swapping between voices, and Savige avoids any sense of stasis with only a stool as a prop – other than the crucial piece of cheese.

Finally, Lookout takes us to the Blue Mountains, with Schwerdt playing Jonathan, who has reached his late 50s leading a very cloistered life. Bell keeps us guessing, and when we do latch on, Jonathan’s wetness becomes our sadness. All over in 90 minutes, the trilogy bulges with intelligence, heart and skill. It’s just a shame the second two can’t quite match the near-perfect Summer of Harold.

Until October 14.