Harry, Poor Michelle. Underbelly, Cowgate. ****

Poster

“Harry” examines the impact of pop culture and fandom on friendships. Two teenagers, Caitlin and Sophie, meet at university and become best friends who spend all their time together cultivating their mutual love of One Direction, and conceiving a plan to meet their favourite, Harry Styles. The early scenes depict the kind of behaviour most young girls have exhibited at some stage in their adolescence; googling the object of their affection, plastering their walls with posters and naively imagining what they might say if they ever met them. The two actresses, Caitlin McEwan (also the playwright) and Sophie McQuillan, do an excellent job conveying the exuberance of teenage fandom. In the scenes in their early stages of the girl’s friendship, director Ellie Gauge has the performers almost mirroring each other physically; and the attention to vocal pace and dynamic allows the audience to track their ages very easily as gradually they become twenty somethings. McEwan and McQuillans’s characterisations are detailed and convincing, whilst ‘obsessive fans’ are definitely a cultural stereotype, they manage to add just the right amount of individuality to avoid falling into that trap.

The plot covers the duration of the character’s time at university, and in the latter stages the tone of the piece evolves, becoming less about Harry, and more about the relationship and lives of the two girls breaking down as one grows up whilst the other remains childlike; her head in a fantasy world. It’s a very contemporary piece, set between 2011 and 2014 where, where through social media, the ‘accessibility’ of celebrities and a 1D concert, Caitlin convinces herself that one day she will meet Harry Styles and the rest will be history. Sophie becomes focused on her degree and her future, whilst Caitlin is no longer interested in working and gets angry with anyone who asks what she wants to do with her life. The script handles these changes sensitively. When you consider the target audience of the play, one has to be careful how these characters are presented, especially Caitlin. There is a balance between the humorous details of a teenage crush and the more disturbing, obsessive confessions towards the end of the play. From the planning of meeting Harry and excited, overlapping dialogue of who knows more about him and what happens at concerts, to the darker more damaging competitive comments where it becomes clear that Caitlin’s goals are destroying her real life. 

Caitlin and Sophie

The staging mirrors the changes in tone of the script. On entry to the venue, One Direction music is playing and we, presumably, come into the girl’s bedroom. There’s a cardboard cut out of the man himself in the doorway and there are biscuits on offer as we take our seats. The girls hang pictures of Harry in their room, which later are used to visually show the divide opening up between the two friends and from the start, the girls use a chalkboard to keep track of the details of their idol. What’s really clever about this device is that as the play progresses, the writer and director have found an extremely unusual way to show how the impact of Harry begins to creep in and invade their lives. 

A poignant piece about friendship and growing up; important for teens to see and nostalgic for adults. Looking forward to seeing what Poor Michelle put together next.