Harry Clarke by David Cale picked up quite a reputation on the other side of the Atlantic, enjoying several extended runs and spawning numerous regional productions. With Billy Crudup in the title role, the off-Broadway runs were sure to gain traction, and now live on as an Audible Original Studio Recording.
Drawing on themes from Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, or even Jekyll and Hyde, Harry Clarke we discover, is not a real person, but instead a persona of unassuming Philip Brugglestein. At just eight years old, growing up in the mid-west, Philip decided he identified more as an English boy, and picked up an appropriate British accent to accompany his new identity.
His father was not pleased with this turn of events and threatened to send the boy for electroshock therapy. This childhood era isn’t explored in much depth, but we get enough to know that it wasn’t a happy upbringing, and that his father’s death would throw up more questions than answers.
With an inheritance in his pocket, Philip relocates to New York and works some uninspiring service jobs in which the self-depreciating ‘English gent’ fares well at. But Philip desires more from life, and a third persona lurks under the surface in the form of a brash cockney by the name of Harry Clarke.
With a backstory lined up (he was personal assistant/manager for Sade) Harry Clarke becomes a far more confident individual, able to segue his way in to other people’s lives. It’s worth pointing out one potential flaw here, and that is the character of Clarke is so brash (with a particularly grating cockney accent) that it seems unlikely he would have been able to charm anyone in New York, much less rich and successful Mark Schmidt and his family.
Yet, he does, and that small detail aside, Harry Clarke turns itself in to the most wonderful of modern thrillers. Writer, David Cale ensures we see not just the vulnerability of Bruggelestein, but also that of Mark Schmidt, and how both Schmidt and Clarke become the answer to each other’s problems.
Billy Crudup is marvellous, playing all of the characters, he manages to give each one a distinct personality, which makes this audio version all the more enjoyable to listen to. At just eighty minutes long, you find yourself hanging on every word, just waiting to see where the story will take you next.
While this sort of story has been told before, it is rejuvenated here in Harry Clarke. Told entirely from one perspective it leaves us questioning just how much of Clarke’s story we can believe, but still enraptured in the tale he weaves.