Theatre in England is by no means short of one-actor shows at the moment, with Sarah Snook’s The Picture of Dorian Grey and Andrew Scott’s Vanya, among others, all having occurred within the last year.

Yet with nothing more than a chair, stage lights and a glass of water, Billy Crudup's Harry Clarke sets itself apart from the competition, with Crudup masterfully transforming into 19 different characters in a play that brilliantly skates between, hilarity, drama and tragedy, while at times sorely lacking depth. 

Harry Clarke (the play) concerns Philip Bruggelstein, a mild-mannered American living and feeling lost in New York who adopts the moniker of the far more interesting Harry Clarke, an imaginary cockney character used by Philip as a child to deflect feelings of isolation and pain generated from being homosexual while introducing himself to Mark Schmidt, a wealthy, closeted recent divorcee who Phillip has been lightly stalking.

Crudup performs and makes distinctions between these personalities, as well as sixteen others, via the manipulation of a multitude of differing accents, attitudes and, small in detail but massive in effect, body language. 

Easily the play's strongest factor is how genuinely laugh-out-loud funny it is. Harry Clarke is a British persona being adopted by Phillip, a person who has never even been to London, let alone England and Crudup plays him as such, delightfully basking in cockney stereotypes in an incredibly amusing, deliberately fake, accent. The script revels in the abrasively shocking, having Crudup say and do things at times in which you cannot help but laugh out in sheer disbelief too. Other actors could act in such a manner and come off as creepy or rude, but the immense charisma and energy Crudup brings to every role he plays in the show circumvents this issue.

While the premise of the play evokes ideas of serious psychological thrillers akin to that of The Talented Mr Ripley, the play only ever sparingly delves into these themes, which is disappointing as when it does do so is easily the show at its most captivating and interesting. Phillip's upbringing, relationship with his father and own personal turmoil were all fascinating insights into what would spur a person to act in the way he does and brings out an engrossing tragic element to the proceedings, yet these topics are never delved into deep enough to feel fully fleshed out. 

This feels as though it is a byproduct of the play's short run time. While a concise 80-minute does prevent the show from stagnating, an extra handful of minutes allowing Crudup to further flaunt his dramatic acting chops would have been to the performance's great benefit. That being said however, if not for its more dramatic scenes, Harry Clarke is desperately worth a watch for anyone seeking peak comedic acting from an undeniably talented actor. 

  • This article was written by Julian Barker, from Peter Symonds College, as part of Newsquest's Young reporter Scheme.