Billy Crudup, Harry Clarke, Ambassadors Theatre, 2024
Photo: Carol Rosegg.
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


Harry Clarke

3 out of 5 stars

Billy Crudup is magnetic in this schlocky one-man thriller


Time Out says

‘Harry Clarke’ is quite possibly the blandest name for a play in written history, and Billy Crudup is one of those well-liked supporting actors who you kind of know, are happy he exists, but aren’t maybe like: ‘oh my god BILLY CRUDUP is doing a one-man-show in London!!!’.

However, behind this unassuming exterior lurks a truly odd play.

In the UK debut by playwright David Cale, Harry Clarke is the English alter ego of Philip Brugglestein, a sensitive gay guy from Indiana who had already adopted another English alter ego, having moved to NYC and told people he was from London. Although Crudup dips into a multitude of roles and voices, the ‘English’ Philip serves as the show’s narrator, with an accent and persona somewhat seemingly cribbed from neurotic ‘Star Wars’ droid C3PO.

Having moved away from home, Philip just seems to be… hanging out in New York, pretending to be English, but not really doing anything, until one day in a moment of bored whimsy he decides to follow Mark, a business guy, around - eavesdropping on him a little but nothing particularly untoward. However, a chance encounter with Mark at the theatre leads to a panicked Philip spontaneously resurrecting Harry, a character he made up as a child. Harry, it turns out, is a swaggeringly confident omnisexual with a fantastically interesting past and an accent that’s pure Spinal Tap. He and Mark hit it off immediately.

To say much more would be to get into spoiler territory for what is in essence a twisty thriller. To be honest it’s a predictable thriller in many ways. Nonetheless, there’s something undeniably disarming about ‘Harry Clarke’. The sheer weirdness of sitting in a British theatre while a famously heterosexual American actor does two different ropey English accents to spin a lurid queer thriller is… certainly something. 

‘Ropey’ isn’t a criticism, mind: Philip has never been to London or, as far as we know, even met a British person – it makes sense that he sounds like an American doing an English accent. And Crudup is, undoubtedly, a fine character actor: his shift from the nervy Philip to the lairy Harry is truly remarkable. Yes, there’s a physical shift as ‘Harry’ adopts a sort of generic Madchester lope. But Crudup’s face looks different when nothing has really happened - thin, drawn and worried for Philip, wide and wolfish for Harry. 

There’s the hint of a meta quality to Leigh Silverman’s production: a sense that ‘Harry Clarke’ isn’t just about Philip adopting personae, but about Billy Crudup doing so, or actors generally. The fact Crudup feels like slightly perverse casting for what is, at heart, a queer story kind of works – it’s jarring, dissonant and artificial. You could ask why the hell Philip is doing what he’s doing; but you could equally ask that of Crudup.

Or maybe that’s reading too much into it and it’s just a frivolous potboiler, lifted by Crudup’s chameleonic charisma and the weirdness of seeing it in England. Certainly the actual plot beats are pedestrian and I wonder if its original US audiences – it premiered in 2017 – would have felt any of the accent-related strangeness. 

Still, even taking a cynical view of it, it’s trashily entertaining and Crudup is magnetic. Certainly if you’re on a big ‘Saltburn’ comedown this will give you your next creepy little guy hit, no problem.


£25-£175. Runs 1hr 20min
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