Brighton Fringe 2021
The modern world runs at a frantic pace. Every day is packed with one thing after another, and there’s never enough time to be. So, what happens to you when, on top of everything else, you’re driven to try and please everyone? In this brilliantly written and darkly comic piece of theatre, Paul Richards brings us into the life of Harvey Greenfield.
The premise of the show is that this is an autobiographical account of Paul’s own life. Through the character of Harvey Greenfield, Paul is taking us through one action-packed, chaotic day.
As the audience takes their seats, Paul engages in a little bit of warm-up work, telling us a bit about himself and the show. Bravely, he reads out some of the show’s feedback. This part is laced with humour, immediately building rapport and serving as a gentle introduction to Paul/Harvey. We learn that the differentiation between character and actor is minimal. This, it turns is a good thing.
Paul tells us that, with the exception of one scene, everything that happens in the show is true. In order to retain the air of mystery, I shan’t reveal which one. By the show’s end, I believe him.
From Harvey’s tortured awakening, through an escalating series of events, we get a sense of Harvey’s internal chaos. This interplay between the absurd event and Harvey’s innermost thought processes is acutely observed. In the construction and scripting of the narrative, Paul displays real talent.
The writing is top quality. The story features evocative and memorable moments, jokes and insights that resonate, and call-backs are cleverly interwoven into the narrative. This is clearly not something put together on the fly, but carefully built and well thought out.
With an honest, autobiographical, account the impact on the audience is not universal. For some, there are unsettling echoes of our own life. Harvey Greenfield shows us something about ourselves and our place in wider society. We may find this uncomfortable, informative or illuminating. If these feelings cause us pain and discomfort, we may respond negatively, and unfairly criticise the show, the performer or anything other than ourselves. This may account for some of the feedback that Paul reads out. But, most importantly, it shows that Harvey Greenfield reaches and speaks to his audience.
Harvey Greenfield is Running Late, is a wordy and complex piece. Although linear in form, there are breakouts for memories, additional scenes and interludes of introspection. Paul uses a single track, rather than a sound engineer, to bring in the voices of friends, family, colleagues and various strangers. Added to this are a variety of sound effects. As a result, Paul needs to hit his cues on time, one misstep would cause chaos. In this performance, he got them all.
There are some quieter moments, which allow some interaction with the audience. This breaks the frantic pacing, let’s Harvey connect with the audience and lets everyone catch their breath. This wall breaking, cleverly, reminds us that Harvey and Paul are one, and the same.
That said, not everything is perfect. This was the first show back, following the lockdown break, and that may account for some aspects of the performance requiring refinement.
The show is tied to the running gag featured in the title. This means Harvey is running on the spot as he delivers his lines. This builds in tension as Harvey tries to please more and more people. It’s easy to overdo this theme, undermining the impact. It can also lead to a breathlessness, which means the words aren’t always clear.
There is an over-reliance on hair pulling and face rubbing to indicate the tension. The introduction of some alternative gestures would give the character added depth and further hold the audience’s attention.
Although it is key that we know Paul and Harvey are one and the same, Paul delivers the script with the same intensity throughout. By varying voice tone and pacing, the performance could be developed to differentiate between the narrator and Harvey. From an audience’s perspective, this would help maintain interest and signify the change in content, as well as carrying them along.
As it runs, the level of freneticism stays the same throughout the 53-minute runtime. In part, this is driven by the soundtrack. A slower start allows the audience to ride along as the pacing and tension increase.
These are suggested as small points of refinement to what is an excellent script and a thoughtful and clever show.
Overall, Harvey Greenfield is Running Late is recommended. This is an honest tale, very well written and performed. The dark comedy inherent in a 30 something trying to navigate an increasingly pressurised world, resonates and echoes aspects of our own lives. There are laugh out loud moments, clever jokes, sharp observations, all told by a likeable, interesting and talented performer.