Theatre, Off-West End
3 out of 5 stars
Peddling, Arcola
© Marilyn Kingwill Harry Melling (Boy)

'Harry Potter's Harry Melling stars in his own play about a boy selling bits and bobs to the well-off.

It can be hard to transform child stardom into a credible adult career, but the plucky trio that led the Harry Potter films have made a great fist of it. And now it’s the turn of Harry Melling, who has shaken off the puppy fat and gormless expression that made him such a winner a Dudley Dursley and produced as sincere one-man show that shows off his considerable acting chops, as well as some real promise as a writer.

The nameless boy protagonist of ‘Peddling’ tells us he’s a victim of some demented community service scheme, apparently cooked up in Boris Johnson’s bird’s nest of a head. It’s not clear whether it’s fictional, or the discontinued Project Daedalus, but whatever the case he’s been tasked with selling bog-roll door to door like some downcast tinker. He’s a kid carved out of hardship, full of a kind of dense and desparate rage that the world has poured into him like concrete. He’s less an employee, more a slave, his mind a switchback track of broken thoughts and memories. He’s like a wild and sad animal, one minute baring his teeth with a raging violence, the next standing cowed and dejected at a stranger’s door. He’s been beaten and broken - he might never be fixed.
Melling’s fragmented narrative is spat out in short rhyming sentences, running on frequent ecstatic outpourings. There are times when it’s all quite beautiful and tragic, but others where Melling tries too hard and stuffs his lines too tightly. There’s also a lack of specificity which calls into doubt how sincere his engagement is with his subject, and whether it’s just a convenient hook to hang some poetry on.

It’s never less than a handsome production though, if designer Lily Arnold’s gauze-box set is a little to reminiscent of Oli Townsend’s for ‘Grounded’, and Melling delivers his script with shiv-sharp, vibrating intensity.