Tag Archives: Barney Norris

The Wellspring

The Wellspring


Royal & Derngate Theatre

The Wellspring

The Wellspring

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


The Wellspring

Royal and Derngate Theatre until 26th March


Recently reviewed at this venue:
Blue / Orange | ★★★★ | November 2021


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Nightfall – 3 Stars



Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 9th May 2018


“injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect”


Barney Norris writes in his programme notes for “Nightfall” that he tries to give voice to people who ‘steer by different stars’. It is clear that he has a passion for the characters he writes about, and he invites us to treat their lives as the ‘centre of the world for the duration of an evening’. With his track record to date this seems a reasonable request. However, while displaying his hallmark themes of love, loss and grief in the familiar territory of rural England, his latest offering falls short of its promise.

We are in an English backwater farm’s ramshackle garden that is dominated by an oil pipeline. Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) who is desperately trying to keep the farm alive after the death of his father the previous year, is illegally siphoning off the oil with the help of his jail-bird friend Pete (Ukweli Roach). The two represent the fight against capitalism, and their onstage chemistry does make their back story credible. The female counterparts are on shakier ground. Claire Skinner, miscast as the grief-torn widow, does her best to convey the protective mother, but battles with a text that refuses to instil empathy into her character. We fail to feel any sense of sadness as she ultimately drives Lou, her daughter, away. Despite this, Ophelia Lovibond skilfully encapsulates the dichotomy of a daughter torn between the desire to escape her derelict life and the loyalty to the mother she will leave behind. Lovibond has the best monologues even though she often seems to be quoting from the lyrics of Talking Head’s ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

The symbolism is all there, and Norris’ message is clear, but it lacks the electrifying vibrancy of, say, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ or the poignancy of Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’. Norris skims the surface of his themes, but it is merely a scratch which doesn’t let you fully see beneath, leaving you uncertain as to whether the waters are deep or merely cloudy.

The mood changes significantly for the second act. Where the cast seemed awkward with the script in the first half, they now embrace the deliberate awkwardness of the dialogue. Exposition gives way to a more human story, and the confusion wrought by the conflicting emotions becomes clearer. But we are still left wanting more vitriol, as the subject matter requires it. Director Laurie Sansom’s production is injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect.

One hopes this is a dent in the hitherto early promise of the Bridge Theatre’s programming. It does seem an odd choice for the scale of the Bridge Theatre, although Rae Smith’s fabulous set does fill the space – occupying the parts of the auditorium that the actors’ voices fail to reach at times. Likewise, the thrust of the play stalls before it reaches the circle.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan 



Bridge Theatre until 26th May


Previously reviewed at this venue
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018


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