When Harry Met Barry, Above The Stag, London ★★★

Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:

Paul Emelion Daly’s musical comedy romance first played at the Above the Stag Theatre in July 2011. In the intervening years, the venue has changed – from a room above a now-demolished gay pub in Victoria to an archway in Vauxhall. When Harry Met Barry has also undergone its own transformation, with a whole character excised.

When Brandon Gale’s Harry, a TV chef with his own Soho restaurant, bumps into old school friend Barry (Sam Peggs), with whom he once had a brief romance, the duo find their love for each other resurfacing – despite both of them being involved with other people.

The inevitability of the romantic storyline robs Daly’s book of much opportunity for depth, which is maybe why it does not try too hard. Harry’s relationship with flamboyant fashion design student Spencer never feels as if it gets off the ground enough to be truly at risk.

Slightly more engaging is Barry’s relationship with the bookish Alice, helped in no small manner by a delightfully engaging performance by Maddy Banks, making her professional debut with all the confidence of a seasoned performer.

Daly’s song lyrics may not be the smartest or wittiest out there, but his ear for a catchy melody is not in doubt. Musical director Simon David, accompanied by cellist Emma Melvyn, helps bring out the musical strengths of the score, accompanied by some vigorously determined performances from the four actors.

The songs help contribute to a sense of briskness throughout the play, as the couples race through their various romantic highs and lows.

Initially, such pace is welcome – but as Act II approaches what should be the show’s emotional climax, character development is foregone in favour of a throwaway line or two to explain two months’ worth of back story in an unsatisfying manner.

Previous iterations of When Harry Met Barry included a fifth character, that of a narrator-cum-fairy godmother, who could help paper over some of these flaws; without her, Daly’s plotting is left feeling a little threadbare.

The overall effect is not unenjoyable, though. David Shields’ set, all shelves stacked with toys and knick knacks, reflects the show’s impish persona. And Chris Withers’ lighting designs and, more subtly, Nico Menghini’s sound designs, help with scene changes that move from one location to another, and back, at the snap of a finger.

With a finale that directly plays homage to its near-namesake, When Harry Met Sally, Daly sets himself up for comparison with Nora Ephron’s genius scriptwriting, and must surely be unsurprised that he falls short.

Despite that, though, Above the Stag’s revival is not without its charms, and makes for a fun, if unassuming, evening of entertainment.