Royal and Derngate Theatre
Reviewed – 24th March 2022
“a charming vignette of the relationship between a son and his father”
The stage of the Theatre Royal is stripped back to its battered rear wall (Designer Rosie Elnile). Within the space stands a trailer full of property – someone is moving house perhaps – tables, chairs, carpet, a music stand. Seemingly abandoned at the front of the stage is a rather strange looking piano. A projection screen (Video Design Megan Lucas) resembles a giant mobile phone. It shows two compasses inscribed with town names: London – Paris – Oxford – Long Buckby. We soon discover the relevance of each of these places for one or other of our two characters.
These characters are father and son, David and Barney. Played by real life father and son, concert pianist David Owen Norris and playwright Barney Norris. And co-authored by them too. It is a curious piece scripted as a play with the subtitle “A Memory Cycle”. It is essentially a series of alternating monologues with some small amount of interaction between the two actor/performer/family members. Jude Christian directs their effortless movement around the stage.
David softly plays the piano whilst Barney talks. Barney (inexplicably) cooks dinner during David’s turn. Home video images from thirty years ago are projected onto the screen, sharing with us a small part of their past lives together. David relates some stories, mere snippets of story really, about how he has reached this point in his career; he seems satisfied with how things have turned out. Barney worries about where his career is heading; he seems anxious of his future. David says of Barney near the end, “You’ve made your story sadder than mine” and we feel that the younger man hasn’t yet found what he is looking for; this collaboration being part of his search for an answer.
There’s an ample amount of humour in the narration. This audience enjoys the references to speaking with a Northamptonshire accent, so rarely heard nowadays, even in Northampton. And there is some pain too: the audience sighs in empathy of David’s experiences in Sydney and at Barney’s bruising street encounter.
The musical interludes that reflect the stories are delightful. David’s doodlings at the keyboard appear effortless: Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Elgar, even some pieces of his own. Barney turns the tables and takes his own place on the piano stool for some Schubert. Barney’s soft baritone renditions of both faux and real English folk songs make you realise he has other talents if the script-writing business goes south.
This short performance is a charming vignette of the relationship between a son and his father. Is there anything to be learned from their cycle of memories? “You take the music where you find it” is the most profound reflection to carry away from the evening. Perhaps too, a desire to hear Barney sing in a real folk club and to hear David play on a proper piano.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Robert Day
Royal and Derngate Theatre until 26th March
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