I was invited to see this new production from the SWL Fringe company, which promised to be “a slice of Americana”. Written by Chad Beguelin and co-directed by Caroline Albrectsen and Claudio Salerno, Harbor brings white trash and the nouveau riche to Chiswick.

Harbor features just four characters: siblings Donna (Jessica Napier, all quiet desperation and hard veneer) and Kevin (Douglas Coghlan, convincing as a confused man wrestling with a past he thinks he’s outgrown); Donna’s fifteen-year old daughter Lottie (Constance Des Marais, who contributes a strong study of a young woman who has to mask her emotional instability); and Kevin’s wealthy husband Ted (Nicholas Gauci, nervously neurotic yet sweetly paternal to Lottie).

Donna, a singer who has so little success or talent that she prostitutes herself for money, lives in a foul-smelling and grubby van with Lottie, who is never in one place enough to be seen as anything other than the local freak. She’s learnt maturity from her mother’s irresponsibility and promiscuity.

Douglas Coghlan and Jessica Napier in Harbor

Kevin, a writer who has produced little in ten years, lives in a designer home in the Hamptons, tastefully furnished with books, lamps and cacti. Ted is a designer who is losing commissions while resenting other people’s children (“babies are like petri dishes, full of germs”). Their marriage has left them smug, satisfied and double-barrelled.

In a succession of mainly two-hander scenes, Donna lands on her brother’s doorstep and slowly upturns their stability and relationship with her family revelations, drinking and weed smoking, and succession of “fag”, “fairy”, “homo” and “dick” jokes. It’s clear her motivation is a bit darker than simple mischief.

Uproariously funny in places, this play also veers into the thoughtful and even tragic, as Lottie and Ted both find their dreams collapsing, as new family units find their feet. Only Lottie is really likeable, with the adults proving themselves to truly have feet of clay.

The company of Harbor

There’s a beautifully directed scene between Ted and Lottie in a Macdonald’s diner, another with Donna and Lottie with a disembodied voice on the phone, another at Lottie’s birthday party when her mother ruins her happiness as she has done so many times before.

Scenes of normality, too, in locations ranging from the bathroom to a parking lot: small conversations all couples have, big revelations that can crack open the strongest bond.

I found Harbor much more than a succession of one-liners, or a revolving door of familial couples. Just as Lottie finds echoes of The House of Mirth or Mrs Dalloway in the life she experiences, there’s more going on below the surface than Kevin’s mommy neurosis, Ted’s dream of being a teenage cheerleader, or Donna trading hand jobs for cash.

Harbor runs at the Tabard Theatre until 24 August. It’s worth a trip out to West London if you want to catch something off the beaten track.

Photos courtesy of Claudio Salerno.

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