Harry Clarke review: Billy Crudup comes to the West End with ‘effortlessly engrossing’ one-man play

A string of Hollywood stars have turned up in the West End this year, said Sarah Crompton on What’s on Stage. The latest is Billy Crudup, who has crossed the pond to reprise his role in a play that brought him off-Broadway acclaim in 2017.

David Cale’s “Harry Clarke” is a funny, smart and “effortlessly engrossing” one-man piece about a fantasist and conman from the American Midwest who starts to speak in a fey upper-class English accent as a child, then moves to New York, where he reinvents himself as a sexually omnivorous Cockney wide-boy. And Crudup is simply superb in it. He doesn’t quite nail the accents, but he “charismatically mines each twist and turn”, and lands his lines “with immaculate timing”. It amounts to a “real tour de force of storytelling and performance”.

Crudup is “hypnotic”, said Clive Davis in The Times. Playing a string of different characters, he makes the bare stage feel crowded with “hubbub” and adventure in a piece that is packed with droll one-liners. It’s “technically dazzling and highly entertaining”, agreed Sam Marlowe in The Stage. But it’s not enough to paper over the defects in what is a rather slight play. With a few too many “corkscrew twists”, and an anticlimactic ending, Harry Clarke is “effectively a series of Escher staircases leading nowhere, ingenious but inconsequential”.

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The play “is a tribute to that much loved cultural figure, the gay (or at least queer-coded) conman”, said Alice Saville in The Independent. In “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Saltburn“, these “enigmatic” figures feel like the “product of 20th century homophobia and the double lives it forced so many men to lead”, and you sense their “slippery charisma” is at least partly a survival tactic. But the character here has “none of the inner darkness that would make sense of his baroque fabrications”. 

The evening may please Crudup’s fans (and collectors of appalling English accents), but it feels hard to justify the top ticket price of £195 for this minimally staged 80-minute import. Far better to “head to one of London’s homegrown pub theatres for all the intrigue, at a tenth of the price”.

Ambassadors Theatre, London WC2 (harryclarketheplay.com). Until 11 May

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