A series of crisp scenes marked by sharp observation and illuminated by engaging performances form Simon Stephens' new National Theatre play "Harper Regan," about a woman facing crises on all sides.
Lesley Sharp gives a performance demonstrating a keen grasp of the comic and dramatic elements of the title character, a woman with a troubled husband, an alienated mother, a chilly daughter, an unrewarding job and a desperately sick father with no time off to see him before he dies.
Harper is a complex individual manifesting much of what ails a modern woman in her 40s, being bright, loving and trusting but also credulous, stubborn, angry and sad. Her life is revealed in a series of encounters with family members, her employer and assorted strangers when she drops everything to make a dash to be at her father's bedside.
Central to the problems in her life is that husband Seth (Nick Sidi) is a registered sex offender as a result of taking photographs of small girls in a park. His inability to find work complicates Harper's relationships with her mother (Susan Brown), who believes Seth to be guilty, and daughter Sarah (Jessica Raine), who refuses to talk about it.
Stephens, whose "On the Shore of the Wide World" won the 2005 Olivier Award as best new play, contrives insightful encounters that show a woman learning to confront her worst fears. Director Marianne Elliott uses Hildegard Bechtler's elegantly simple set, with a useful balcony, to keep the action flowing.
Raine is bracingly fresh as a young woman who is frighteningly smart but wound very tight, and Harris is all ferocious denial as Harper's mother.
In single scenes, striking contributions come from Michael Mears as Harper's fussy boss, Jack Deam as a racist drinker she meets in a pub and Brian Capron as an indifferent partner in a one-night stand.
Sidi, as the humiliated husband; Troy Glasgow, as a shy youth Harper runs into at a park; Eamon Boland, as her mother's new husband; and Nitin Kundra, as a workman, play their smaller roles well.
Venue: National Theatre, London (Through Aug. 9)
Cast: Lesley Sharp, Jessica Raine, Michael Mears, Troy Glasgow, Nick Sidi.
Playwright: Simon Stephens.
Director: Marianne Elliott.
Set designer: Hildegard Bechtler.
Lighting designer: Chris Davey.
Sound designer: Ian Dickinson.