Inter-generational relationships are always controversial, especially when questions of predatory abuse arise in these Savile-dominated times. Yet it’s fair to say that the love-story which forms the heart of Harold and Maude — the growing relationship between death-fixated, 19 year old Harold (Tommy Bastow) and the full-of-life, take-every-day-as-it-comes Maude (Vari Sylvester) who is just shy of her 80th birthday, does come across as a genuine attraction of opposites, with the promise of both participants benefiting from each other’s company.
In that sense, this has the potential to be a truly timeless tale, but there is nevertheless a strong sense of this being a period piece; and not just because it was openly adapted by Colin Higgins from his own screenplay for the 1971 film directed by Hal Ashby. In this revival, director Kenny Miller retains several things that date the piece: mentions of a war that can only be the Second World War; the presentation of an agency-based model of “computer dating” as some bizarre novelty; and, most of all, a scene when Harold looks desperately for a phone to make an emergency call — these days, like everyone else, surely he’d use his mobile? (Or, as this is distinctly placed in the US, his cellphone.)
The resulting air of unreality is emphasized by the Miller’s staging. Harold’s world is a minimalist one of blood red walls and black furniture, populated by heightened characters such as his mother (Anita Vettesse) and a psychologist (Richard Conlon) whose deliberately mannered performances are a cartoon that heightens the more chaotic, pastel reality of Maude’s world. This is fine as far as it goes; who would deny that, when you’re in love, the rest of the world seems less real? Yet there is a risk when these two worlds necessarily collide; it is significant that Maude meets Harold’s mother only when her own home is packed away, and therefore nearly as minimalist as the world Harold comes from.
The central performances by Bastow and Sylvester are the anchor of this production, even if Sylvester does seem a tad young at times to be playing a 79 year old. Bastow does a good job in revealing the layers in maturing young man, as much with his body as a few words. This is just as well, given that the production’s final emotional punch lies on his shoulders alone; and he acquits himself well.