The Harry Harlow Project

The Harry Harlow Project is theatre based on the life and work of one of the most controversial scientists of the 20th Century.

Harlow was the first psychologist to explore the nature of love, and his groundbreaking work with baby rhesus monkeys brought him fame and acclaim in the scientific world. However, as his own personal struggles took hold, Harlow’s experiments into the darker side of love became more and more macabre and disturbing.

How do we reconcile that his work became the foundation for everything science now accepts about child-rearing, neglect, child abuse, and depression?

This production explores this man and his work by creating the laboratory inside his head. This is where his ideas, emotions, memories, ethics, insecurities and demons reside and conflict to create the work that has been the source of so much benefit, consternation, admiration and hatred.


A man enters the space… it is Harry Harlow reading what appears to be a speech. In fact, he is rehearsing the speech he will give as he accepts the Presidency of the American Psychological Association in 1952. It is his ground-breaking paper “The Nature of Love”. It soon becomes apparent that this is no ordinary space.

His physical movements and bizarre manner indicate something quite different. Both Harry and the audience are, in fact, inside the laboratory inside Harry’s Head, where performance styles, technology and a unique narrative style collide.

As the piece continues, details of his life and work are revealed. Harry engages with myriad elements of his own psyche as tries to come to grips with himself, and his work. His, at first, wonderful and iconic experiments revealed so much about both monkey’s and our own true nature, and with each scene, his own psyche and that of his monkey subjects blur and unravel revealing a truly troubled genius. His life is an experiment, and the audience is complicit in it. It’s as though we are seeing shards of his psyche: memories, ideas, personality traits, inner thoughts and ethical dilemmas shatter in this space. This shattering leads us to a pivotal moment in his life and work, the development of his infamous ‘Pit of Despair’ experiment, designed to induce clinical depression in baby monkeys, in order to understand the nature of his own suffering.



Brisbane Powerhouse
Salamanca Arts Centre
Adelaide Festival Centre
Performance Space Sydney


The Arts Centre Melbourne


“…dazzling indie theatre” – Alison Croggon, The Australian
“an immersive and provocative meditation on the man, his ground-breaking work and his destructive madness” The Age


Sound Design/Composition
Video Design
James Saunders
Brian Lipson
Kelly Ryall
Martyn Coutts
Kate Sulan


Director – Lee Cumberlidge