The Barn Theatre
Reviewed – 27th March 2020
“Aaron Sidwell is a terrific Henry for our times, and moves deftly between his different incarnations”
The Barn’s Henry V, which ran for a month in 2019, was both a critical and commercial success. The production played to packed houses and added to that theatre’s growing reputation, which led to the Best Fringe Theatre Award at last year’s Stage awards. Now sadly dark, along with all the UK’s other theatres, The Barn live-streamed the production at 6pm last night, in honour of World Theatre Day, and to keep their own flame alive.
Henry V is not an easy play to stage. The action is choppy, and it is blessed and cursed with some of the most famous speeches of the Shakespearean canon. Not only have those speeches been given by some of the titans of theatrical history, but they have also been co-opted time and time again to serve patriotic fervour, for good or ill; most recently by Tommy Robinson and his band of thugs in the Brexit war, which is, of course, the political landscape that this production came out of, and which Hal Chambers (director) quite rightly references. Benjamin Collins’ terrific video projection work makes this quite clear, as does the staging of the political meetings: leaders behind podiums, turning on the charm for the press. The contemporary references don’t stop there; Harry himself is compared to our own Prince Harry – the party prince – and the extended rave montage at the play’s opening firmly situates him in the world of clubs and cocaine, showing the distance he has to travel to be taken seriously as a monarch. The sequence could arguably have been shorter, but the point is well made.
Aaron Sidwell is a terrific Henry for our times, and moves deftly between his different incarnations – monarch, soldier, politician – all the while displaying a charming eagerness to do the right thing. This is a Henry who cares, so very much, about his country and his countrymen, and watching the profound weight of that leadership grow within him as the play progresses is one of the pleasures of this performance, and this production. He is supported by a committed and talented cast, whose energy fills the stage to such an extent that it’s hard to credit that there are only eight of them all told. Special mention here to Adam Sopp (Pistol/Constable) and Lauren Samuels (Katherine/Boy) each of whom light up the stage with utterly connected, truthful performances. Pistol’s final breakdown is truly heartbreaking, and Samuels’ physical and emotional embodiment of two such different characters a testament to serious theatrical skill.
The battle scenes are tremendous. Expertly choreographed chaos with bone-chilling moments of explosive violence. Credit to Christos Dante (fight director) and Kate Webster (movement director) here, two members of an exceptionally talented production team, also including Harry Smith, whose original compositions provide the soundtrack. Although there are moments in which an underscore seems surplus to requirements, the music is for the most part used effectively throughout, and is the sonic realisation of the brilliantly-used industrial scaffolding set design.
It is impossible to watch this production without feeling what is missing. And it is as well to be reminded of the irreplaceable electricity of live performance. Filmed theatre is a strange phenomenon; akin to caging a tiger. Zoos have their place, of course, but living, breathing creatures need to be free.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Eve Dunlop
On The Barn Theatre’s social media channels until further notice
Last ten shows reviewed by Rebecca:
Reviewed – 10th January 2018
“Heretic Productions should be warmly congratulated for giving an opportunity to three relatively new women’s voices that may well otherwise have remained unheard”
Last year Heretic Productions announced a rare opportunity for writers from all backgrounds to see their work published and fully produced on the main stage at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. The rules were specific in that the work must not have previously been performed professionally, have a running time of between 15 and 45 minutes, be a monologue and be performed in English.
A nationwide search opened in May 2017 which received over one thousand submissions. A shortlist of nine was then given to a panel and from these, three works were chosen to be produced. Those are now presented collectively as Heretic Voices and are Woman Caught Unaware by Annie Fox, Dean McBride by Sonya Hale and A Hundred Words for Snow by Tatty Hennessy.
This was my first visit to The Arcola Theatre which is housed in a converted paint factory and I was impressed with the design and feel of this vibrant venue. On entering the main theatre there is a basic set of a white square on the floor and each of the plays makes full advantage of the minimalist design. Seating is on three sides and the audience close to the action. The evening begins with all three actors entering before two depart to leave only seasoned actor Amanda Boxer on stage and we are about to experience Woman Caught Unaware.
This is about Mary, a sixty something professor that many graduates will identify with, who discovers there is a photograph of her that has gone online. It is the story of an older woman being photographed without her permission, her being naked in a changing room. The image is shared and she is mocked online. The monologue allows her to tell her side of the story without interruption during which we learn more about body shaming and the emotions that kind of humiliation brings.
It is a challenging role for an older woman which, in the main, Boxer takes in her stride. There are a couple of moments of slight hesitation in her delivery but given this was only the second performance it didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the performance. It is funny, moving and thought provoking.
Next on was Ted Reilly, many will know him as Johnny Carter from Eastenders, who plays Boy in Dean McBride. This is a story of a boy growing up on a Croydon council estate and sees part of his life from his 10 and 16 year old points of view. It is a vivid story of loss, deprivation, suffering and redemption through love. He struggles through life before finding his way back to happiness.
Reilly uses the stage floor well and has a strong physicality about his performance. Some of the language is both ‘strong’ and ‘street’ and the writing takes the audience on a journey to a place many would not want to go. Disappointingly Reilly had to refer to the printed script in the last few minutes and hopefully this will not be the case in future.
Following a short break it was the turn of Lauren Samuels who gave an outstanding performance in A Hundred Words for Snow. Brilliantly written and expertly acted it is a story of a teenage girl who runs away from home with her father’s ashes to visit the North Pole. It looks at the complexities, joys and difficulties of being a teenage girl. Samuels appears fresh from her run in Romantics Anonymous at The Globe, which finished on Saturday. She is a consummate professional and was quite incredible as Rory. The audience reaction at the end was a fitting tribute to her 5 star performance.
In conclusion each performance is well performed and directed with effective yet minimal set, lighting and sound support. Heretic Productions should be warmly congratulated for giving an opportunity to three relatively new women’s voices that may well otherwise have remained unheard.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Robert Workman
Arcola Theatre until 20th January