With so many old favourites – both plays and musicals – coming around again (deservedly, because the public loves them), it is not so often that theatres have the opportunity to commission new, homegrown work.
Showing at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney right now are three exciting new works by playwright Hilary Bell. Sumer of Harold is an expanded play (formerly called Window, Cricket Bat), and it teams up with Enfant Terrible and Lookout. As the daughter of esteemed actors John Bell and Anna Volska, Hilary is part of a family steeped in the theatre (including her sister, actress Lucy Bell) and she’s been writing prolifically for stage, screen and radio since 1995.
These three plays feature only two actors – Hannah Waterman and Berynn Schwerdt – with one solo piece each and one where they are onstage together. The first – Summer of Harold fearing Waterman as ‘Janet’ – tells the story of two young Antipodean backpackers who spend the summer of 1984 chaotically keeping house and cooking for playwright Harold Pinter in his London abode. Based on a true story, it is entertaining and engaging and, as one who also spent a few years in London in similar circumstances, rings hilariously true.
The second play – Enfant Terrible – features Schwerdt as Gareth, a once-promising, now-bitter artist whose artistic genius is overlooked in favour of a classmate he once pitied for his lack of talent but who leapfrogs Gareth, rising to the top of the art world. Without giving it away, the final moment resulted in a collective gasp from the audience.
The third play, Lookout, was my favourite. It features both Waterman and Schwerdt and is intriguing and moving in equal parts. You are kept guessing as to the nature of the relationship between the two and become quickly invested in their lives and how things will end for them.
How we value raw talent and celebrity; the oftentimes-thin relationship between love and jealousy; and the importance we give to inanimate objects are a few of the themes binding these plays together but they each stand alone as well, representing 90 minutes of entertaining viewing into the lives of others who, despite their particular circumstances, are, at the end of the day, perhaps not so different from ourselves.
Summer of Harold
Ensemble Theatre, Sydney
Until 14 October, 2023