The Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street
In Pursuit of Nigel!
Every girl has a fantasy and Nigel Harman is mine (apart from Sean Bean that is …. Oh and Gary Lineker!) But Mr K thinks the Harman is, and I quote, “a c**k” and not the love god that I know him to be! In fact, when I first suggested that he come on a theatre trip to see the aforementioned extremely talented and versatile performer – to see Guys and Dolls back in 2006 - he said that he would “chuck maltesers at his podgy face”, followed by the classic and predictable “he’s probably gay anyway”. Sigh. Just remember who I married!
Nevertheless, he got through the sighing and eye-rolling that characterised my Guys and Dolls experience and began to understand that everyone has a ‘crush’ or as I put it ‘a celebrity buy’ i.e. one person in the public eye you are allowed to be unfaithful with. Well, to be fair Mr K hasn’t agreed to that per se, but seeing as Nigel is never going to ask me, it doesn’t matter!
I should point out that he was the one who told me that Nigel was in The Common Pursuit at The Chocolate Factory in London’s Southwark St, and as it had an excellent cast, including James Dreyfuss and The League of Gentleman’s Reece Shearmith, he agreed that we could go. I had the tickets booked within about ten seconds!
The great thing about these Fringy venues is that there’s every chance that you will bump into the cast in the Foyer. And yes, you’ve guessed it! As I walked up to the Box Office to collect our tickets, who should walk out of a side door, back lit to make him appear as some kind of God – which of course he is – and walk straight towards me? Yes – the Harman! OMG I whispered to Mr K who, when he realised what was happening looked completely panic-stricken as I am not known for my composure when faced with a love God! But breathing normally, eventually, I nonchalantly got our tickets while trying to ignore the delicious breeze caused by Nige passing just inches from me.
But onto the play!
I first saw this Simon Gray play back in the 80s with Rik Mayall, who frankly could read the phone book and I would howl with laughter. This latest production by Fiona Laird turned out to be a witty and engaging evening, enhanced by the site of the Harman of course!
Look. I’m sorry. I am a serious theatregoer honestly, I don’t normally go on about men like this but goodness me – I really can’t help it in this case!
The play starts in 1986 when all the characters are Cambridge undergraduates about to launch a literary magazine with high intellectual standards.
After that each scene moves forward by a few years until we get to 1986, after which it goes back to the beginning so that we can view their first meeting with the benefit and poignancy of hindsight.
Over time their initial hopes and ideas have faded and friendships have become strained or betrayed. It has witty dialogue and laugh out loud moments but underneath, there’s a sadness as everyone either sells out in the end, or has to compromise or fails to meet their own high standards.
For me, the star of the show is James Dreyfus, a brilliant actor who is so much more than the series of camp, and admittedly very funny, characters that he is known for on the telly. As Humphrey he is sharp, dry and immensely hard on himself. You laugh one minute and feel his intense pain the next.
Ben Caplin is a moving Martin, a troubled but decent man who lives through the lives of his friends before following a route that can destroy the friendships that he holds so dear. And Robert Portal’s Stuart is a suitably irritating, yet still sympathetic character.
As you might expect, Reece Shearsmith provides good comic support as the chain-smoking cynic, but what of Nigel?!
Well, as Peter, the philandering, womanising don who forgoes his talent in order to mass produce popular history books, it seems that he has developed a good sense of comic timing and a nice line in fairly tight trousers! That’ll do for me! But when he is forced to look at the mess he has made of his life, there’s an intensity in his eyes that took me back to young Dennis in Eastie!
This is ultimately a sad piece that shows how innocence and hope for the future dwindles with time, but told in a witty way that makes its climax all the more poignant.