Harry Harlow was a mid west, US 1950’s psychologist who first used the word ‘love’ in a scientific paper. He was condemned for that and for many of his research techniques into the human condition, especially child rearing, using rhesus monkeys in his experiments. Nonetheless, the findings of his research have become common place even if established science does not like much to use his name as the source of the ‘discoveries.’
The Harry Harlow Project is a one man show, written as well as performed by James Saunders. His work is aided, at the front of the theatre by Video Artist, Martyn Coutts and composer and sound designer, Kelly Ryall.
Skilfully the three artists quickly establish Harlow in his world and then lead us on various pathways that make us question whether in doing his science, Harlow was mad, misunderstood, doing little more than playing out his own psychologies (was he suffering from Aspergers), a monster, just in for the glory or an individual capable of profound care for new born infants.
There are moments of high wire choreograph precision when video has to match performance on the stage but the ensemble carry it of seamlessly. The script and production is often intense as well as humorous and running barely an hour never loses your attention. Saunders work on stage is terrific, portraying well the dimensions of the man without over reaching into melodrama.
Works by the arts community about science often tend to ride roughshod over research realities or quickly retreat to areas with which the artists (and / or they believe their audiences) are more comfortable. No such criticism can be made like that here and one is reminded of Liam Neeson’s performance in the film Kinsey where the pursuit of results and the ‘flow’ felt from the research come to block out every day life including being able to make much sense of their relationships with their own family members, making, to outsiders, the person appear quite weird.
If nothing else, plays like this give an insight into the type of people, who no matter how we may judge them, actually make the big changes that affect us all.
This is excellent theatre and well worth attention as well by any with an interest in psychology and scientific endeavour generally.
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