Odd Event Reviews... When Harry Met Sally Stageplay

Tony Gallichan & Adam J Purcell tell the tale of a Staggering Stories visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, on 1st May 2004.

Tony's Review

Wot I did on Saturday.

I got up. I fed my cats. I went to London. There were people. I went on the tube. Karen said I should save a goblin from the train track. I didn't want to. She sulked. I found the way to Haymarket. I saw the Police Post in Piccadilly. I beat Adam at a round of Mornington Crescent. I had food. I nearly got away with not paying for it. I saw a play. It was fun. It was in Widescreen. I heard funny noise from three seats to my right during THAT scene. I was scared. I waited for her to come out and sign Andy and Adam's apendages. She didn't want to come out. They sulked. I went to Page's Bar. It was crappy. There was no one there. Apart from a few people and Heather. I saw Heather. It was fun. I went home. I fed my cats. I went to bed.

Adam's Review

It may only have been a couple of weeks ago but back then I was young and now I am old. To celebrate my 30th birthday (or, perhaps, my last day as a 29 year old as was the case) Karen and Keith were kind enough to buy me a ticket to see Alyson Hannigan on stage and the entire Staggering Stories team (bar, as usual, George) turned out for the event too.

I hadn't seen the original film and all I really knew about it was the infamous 'restaurant scene' through various parodies. On paper it probably doesn't sound like my sort of film - it's what most would probably term a 'chick flick' (no, not that great game that Bernard Matthews invented before it was banned by those animal welfare people - back to marbles for us!) Nonetheless it had Alyson Hannigan in it and I was very much looking forward to seeing her in person, and who wouldn't?

We all met up outside the Haymarket and took our excellent seats in the stalls. It's a very impressive auditorium, see the Theatre Royal, Haymarket web site for more details. Incidentally, as I write this, today my people informed me that there was a accident yesterday (15 May 2004) involving some of the fantastically decorated ceiling plaster falling into the auditorium during the evening performance. Apparently no one was seriously hurt and the play will continue again from about mid next week. A big shame, I'll sure they'll restore the couple of square metres affected - I'm certainly glad I saw it before that. Don't let that put you off seeing the play, however as, let's face it, nobody goes to the theatre to admire the decor!

Shortly before going to the play I'd looked up previous reviews to get some idea what the play was about and what to expect. I was surprised to hear that Alyson's costar (i.e. Harry to her Sally) was no other than JMS's Jeremiah, Luke Perry. Two genre actors to get autographs from, each having worked with, in my opinion, one the best two writers in TV (and comics, films, etc.) Joe Straczynski (Perry in Jeremiah) and Joss Whedon (Hannigan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). That's quite a cast for a relatively small scale production such as When Harry Met Sally. Of course I was still somewhat fixated on seeing Alyson so I completely forgot to bring anything along for Luke Perry to sign (not that there is anything for Jeremiah that I know of) - for Alyson I had the Willow DVD from the Buffy 'The Slayer Collection' which I went out and bought especially the day before.

Perry looked and sounded just as he had in Jeremiah but Alyson sounded quite different to her old character Willow, or indeed Michelle from American Pie. It's quite hard for a Brit to believe but this was actually Alyson's first ever stage work - here it's almost a given that actors work their way up to television and film via the stage. Even once big names of TV/cinema can often be found as jobbing actors treading the boards, if you know where to look. Alyson, apparently, started with TV adverts as a child, then went on to films ('My Stepmother is an Alien') and then to TV. At first during the play she seemed to be almost shouting her lines but I'm glad to say her delivery quickly settled down, though even after that her accent was slightly different from what I'm used to. Obviously that was a deliberate acting decision on her part and I think it paid off to make this character different from her others. I can't help but suspect she suffers somewhat from stage fright, though, especially not being accustomed to live performances before the public. Nonetheless she looked at least as good as she ever did in Buffy, probably even better in the flesh - I really should have brought some opera glasses to get that extreme close up (some scenes even more than others!!) I was quite surprised to learn that she had celebrated her own 30th birthday a few week before I did - I had always assumed she was at least 5 years my junior.

Back to the play, though. It was funny. Very funny. Both the stars had a stage presence and a certain wit that obviously made them perfect for their parts. Perry seemed particularly at ease with the stage. Some of the funniest bits, however, were actually some of the reactions from the rest of the cast. Two that particularly stick in my mind are a scene when Harry and Sally remeet after quite some time in a gym. The poor characters around (and particularly between) them on the static exercise bikes gave some fantastic performances of either pretending not to be listening in on a private conversation or trying not to get pulled into the ensuring arguments between the title characters. The other was the absolutely foolhardy drunk background character that after a whole scene of quietly but amusingly acting drunk (trying desperately, and fairly successfully, to steal the scene) then falls off his rather high barstool onto the hard stage. It looked like a real gaff but I'm sure it's repeated every performance. The play has a number of such standout scenes but these in no way detracted from the great banter between Alyson Hannigan and Luke Perry

One aspect of the play I wasn't so sure about was the projection of prerecored footage of old couples talking about how they first met. I'm told this concept is taken directly from the original film, though the actual footage is different. Personally I found most of that to be quite sickeningly sentimental but I can see why they chose to keep it. For one it gave the audience something to watch while the stage hands busily changed the sets but it also led to the ending of Harry and Sally's prerecorded segment that tied the play up nicely. I have to wonder, however, if they have several such scenes prerecorded for cases when understudies are used.

I'm deliberately not saying too much about the play itself - go and see it you cheapskates, it's a brilliant play. In a way I'm surprised I liked it as much as I did. I don't tend to think about 'relationships' too much - those are things other people have time for, I certainly don't! Nonetheless when you think about it so much of American sitcom revolves around the relationship failures of the main characters, I'm thinking Frasier, Seinfeld and (I assume - I haven't actually seen it) Friends. When Harry Met Sally is very much in that mold but benefits from greater running time.

Great though the play is my biggest disappointment of the day came when Alyson Hannigan (or Luke Perry, for that matter) failed to show up at the stage door after the play. We waited, with quite a few others, for what must have been at least half an hour only to eventually be told that they don't appear after a matinee performance. I was really looking forward to meeting Alyson and getting a picture of myself with her. I had planned to publish it here with this review. That ended it on a bit of a downer but if you aren't especially wanting to met either of the stars then obviously don't let that keep you away from the play. To those that do want to meet her - avoid the matinee performances and go along to enjoy the play, consider anything else a bonus.

I believe it runs until the end of the month (May 2004) so you'll have to be quick, and probably lucky, to get tickets. The performance we attended appeared sold out from our vantage point. Would I like to see it again? Absolutely. Sadly I doubt I'll get the chance - but don't miss your chance to see it at least once!