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Invisible hero at the heart of play

By Margaret Chrystall

IT’S possible the star of amateur drama group The Florians’ latest show will be the character the play Harvey is named after – a six foot-plus white rabbit.

But as Harvey is invisible and can only be seen by fellow character Elwood P Dowd, it’s likely we will never be able to judge.

For their latest play which opens on Wednesday at the Florians’ Little Theatre in Inverness, the group has found the perfect comedy to present in their 75th anniversary year.

Harvey was first performed on Broadway in 1944 when The Florians was formed in Inverness.

In the story set in the 1940s, Elwood claims to have an invisible friend, a six foot one and a half-inch rabbit called Harvey, that he takes to bars with him and introduces to people. For Elwood’s sister Veta, it is reason enough to try to have Elwood commited to a sanitarium. But it isn’t as easy as she had hoped as everyone comes under the influence of the pooka – or spirit – that is Harvey.

Trevor Nicol, director for this production, said: “According to the encyclopaedia they look up in the play ‘pooka’ is from Celtic mythology, a mischievous sprite-type that can take many forms. It just so happens in this case he is a six foot one and a half-inch white rabbit!

“Maybe if we just opened our eyes, we would see Harvey – or our own Harvey!”

Trevor is directing but also taking on the role of the judge in the play, due to the ill-health of the person originally cast.

Playing Elwood is Nicholas Nicol, his sister Veta is Jenni Lomax and Dr Chumley, director of the sanitarium, is played by Alan Holling.

So are we supposed to believe Elwood, that Harvey is really there?

Trevor said: “It’s a theme that is still relevant today. It’s about acceptance, really.

“Do you accept people whose ideas are a bit different from you or who might be a bit eccentric? Or do people have to follow the crowd and be – in inverted commas – ‘normal’ and follow the norms of society?

“Though it’s a comedy, I think there is a message behind the play – you should accept people for who they are.”

And Elwood was once a go-getter – who has changed.

Trevor said that Elwood says to Dr Chumley “When I was a little boy my mother used to say to me, ‘Elwood, through life you must either be oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant’. For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You can quote me.”

Trevor said: “It sums up the play. He decided to change and become this pleasant person that everyone – once they get to know him – really likes. And when he introduces Harvey to people, often in bars, they come round to his way of thinking!”

The 1950 film version starred James Stewart, but the first success of the play came during the Second World War when it won the drama Pulitzer Prize for writer Mary Chase.

The actress who played Elwood’s sister Joan in the play, Josephine Hull, went on to play her in the film and won the best supporting actress Oscar title.

And the first Broadway production was directed by Antoinette Perry – a director and actress back in the early part of the 20th century – who gave her name to the Tony awards.

Trevor said: “There is no mention of the war in the play and it is set in an almost utopian place in America, not a real place.

“In 1944, it would have been an escape and people might have enjoyed it for that, its simplicity and way of looking at life.”

As well as the return of Florians’ stalwart Louise Munro in a cameo role as the maid, a couple of new members join the cast.

Trevor said: “Aine O’Shea who is playing Nurse Kelly plays it in her own Irish accent. And Darren McMillan – who was in Inverness Musical Theatre’s Footloose – joins us as the dashing young Dr Sanderson.”

n Book remaining tickets for Harvey – which is at the Florians Little Theatre, Inverness, from June 12-15 at 7.30pm, at www.florians.org.uk

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