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harry melling peddling

HARRY MELLING is an actor best known for his role of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films. Last year he performed his debut written play Peddling which was well received by audiences in New York. In April Melling will be bringing his play, which explores the world of thousands of Londoners who sleep on the streets, to the Arcola Theatre in London.

Is it true that Peddling was inspired by a young boy that you encountered when you were younger?

Yes, absolutely. I encountered him when I was about 8. My dad opened the door to him. Sometimes we bought something, other times not. On this occasion we didn’t. I remember the boy being very polite, and thanking us for listening to his pitch.

He left, my dad closed the door. And then something happened. He flipped. Something switched. He started howling abuse, and throwing anything he could get his hands on at the house. It felt like a cry for help.

harry melling daniel radcliffe

Image Harry Melling (left) and Daniel Radcliffe.  Merlin’s Myth and Magic via Flickr.

That must have been a situation that really left an impression on you?

It did. I remember being fascinated at what made him do that? What specifically that last straw was? How many doors he had been to before ours? Where he went to, after he eventually left? What was going to happen to him? What he wanted from his life?

Obviously not at all this came to me at the age of 8, but it definitely imprinted and felt like a story/ world that hadn’t been heard.

You have said that it was a play that you just had to write, do you think there was a social or political message you wanted to make?

Yes it was a story I wanted to tell. It took me a while to learn how best to tell it. It’s hopefully both political and social in terms of it’s content – hopefully not in a knowing way. I wanted it all to come from the boy. He couldn’t just launch into a political rant about where we’re all going wrong, not that this character wouldn’t be able to. But it felt like a personal story with social/ political implications, everything had to spiral from this boy’s world view, if the writer’s voice was too apparent, I think it would get in the way.

Harry Melling Dudley Dursley

Image Harry Melling as Dudley Dursley in Harry Potter.  Merlin’s Myth and Magic via Flickr.

You had the idea kicking around for the play for years can you give us an insight into that long process until it hit the stage?  

There’s been many versions. It started off with two boys. Then eventually it turned into a monologue. I don’t really know why? Certainly not as a sort of showcase, that’s an agenda which feels slightly unsettling. But I felt his story is a solo mission, these characters usually go around by themselves, that isolation felt useful.

It also allows for us to go inside his head more. It allows for a theatricality that wouldn’t be so easy to achieve were it a normal play (so to speak.) And I wanted it to feel magical.

Because that is what the boy is after, a sort of magic, to take him out of his not so great reality. When I finished a draft I was happy(ish) with I sent it to a friend who managed to get a reading of it at Hightide. Steven Atkinson (the artistic director) liked it, and it went from there.

How did the play have its premiere in New York and not London where it is set in?

London always felt like the final destination for this play. New York was a wonderful happening. 59E59 do this fantastic festival called, “Brits Off Broadway,” which we did last May. I must admit it is an odd journey, in terms of usually a play made in the U.K does London then New York. But it feels very right the play has this opportunity to come home. I’m very excited by it being here.

Are there any notable differences in playing to audiences in London and New York?

The million dollar question? Yes, there are. There’s a different quality of listening. I’ve only done two shows in New York, so have still a lot to learn. I think New Yorker’s want to be a part of it more. I feel Londoner’s want to receive it more. Both have their pluses and minus’. I guess it’s about knowing that and trying to steer the story in a way that will allow it to be heard and experienced in the best possible way, the most honest way.

Do you keep in touch with other cast members from Harry Potter?

I bump into other cast members every so often. I’ve done plays with two other Harry Potter alumni. That’s how it seems to work, you are constantly colliding with people you’ve already worked with, and rehashing those relationships.

Do you have plans to write another play and what would it be about?

I do have another play I’m currently working on. I don’t want to give too much away, because am still very much trying to work it out. What I will say is that it’s very different to “peddling”, at the moment it is long, very long, it has two intervals (which I want to keep). There’s something I like about that epic commitment to an evening of theatre (I’m not sure everyone feels the same way?) And the play is about the theatre.

Peddling by Harry Melling will be showing at The Arcola Theatre 4 – 28 March 2015. www.arcolatheatre.com

 

Arcola theatre dalston london

Unexpectedly recognising something is a powerful experience – spotting someone in the street that looks like a friend or accidentally catching your own reflection can be deeply affecting, and this seems to be magnified triggered by a work of art. In the exceptionally well-observed Visitors these moments are frequent but subtle enough not to be overly sentimental, making for an incredibly moving piece of theatre.

London Theatre Review - Visitors at the ArcolaImage  Mark Douet

This begins before the play even starts, with the stage set with the footstools, rug and crossword books that are standard issue for any elderly relative. Arthur and Edie, the elderly couple at the heart of the drama, also reminisce and bicker in a way that provides touchstones for anyone who has spent time with their grandparents, whilst also presenting their individual experience. This opening, with its snatched pieces of memory mixed with current worries accentuated by Edie’s accelerating dementia, echoes Beckett. Here, however, Godot does arrive, in the shape of young home help volunteer Kate. This sets in motion a gradual unravelling of family tensions and a debate about care for the elderly.

Writer Barney Norris has described increasing life expectancy as one of the greatest challenges faced by Middle England, and the questions he poses here – in his first full-length play – feel timely and important. It is a noble undertaking, tainted only by the difficulty posed by his tackling this subject as a young man. Norris writes Arthur and Edie beautifully, but the deep, unquestioned love and easy conversation sometimes feel saccharine. Norris clearly recognises this, and has Arthur address the problem in an early scene by explaining to Kate that the couple don’t often talk that much, and that they are just excited about her arrival. Nevertheless, because we don’t actually see these everyday silences, Visitors, despite its depiction of dementia, can occasionally seem like a rose-tinted view of the old age that we might wish for our relatives and ourselves.

London Theatre Review - Visitors at the Arcola

Image  Mark Douet

This issue is mitigated entirely, however, by breath-taking performances from Linda Bassett as Edie and Robin Soans as Arthur. Their love never feels anything less than genuine, and Edie’s illness is played with great sensitivity. Because of how adoring they are, it is slightly baffling that they have managed to produce such odious offspring as Stephen, played with an uncomfortably tense gawkiness by Simon Muller. It is difficult to feel sympathy for him, even as he delivers a great set piece of a joke that falls completely flat, highlighting the gulf between him an his father, or his increasingly apparent sadness. The only duff note is Muller’s tight-lipped Jimmy Carr-esque delivery of Stephen’s desperate one-liners, which, although clearly meant to grate, do so too successfully.

There is a slither of hope for Stephen, though: in the opening scene Arthur delivers an affectionately sarcastic “ho ho” in response to a comment from his wife; later, his son does the same. This verbal tic, passed down between generations, seems to be the one thing that father and son share, suggesting that if old age presents challenges of isolation and changes to the world that make it difficult to understand, at least we can pass down laughter and affection.

London Theatre Review - Visitors at the Arcola

 

Ben Rackstraw
London Theatre Reviewer

Catch Visitors till March 29 2014 at the Arcola Theatre

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