Tag Archives: Natasha J Barnes



The Other Palace



The Other Palace

Reviewed – 5th September 2019



“The strong performances cannot mask the fact that Falsettos feels disparate, and as though it’s lacking a voice”


Falsettos opens with Four Jews in a Room Bitching. Or that’s the name of the opening number, anyway. It’d be difficult to tell otherwise, since it’s not especially clear where they are, or why they’re there. And they don’t even appear to be doing much bitching. Although this musical’s no stranger to it, as anyone who’s been on Twitter in the past few weeks will know that it’s been mired in controversy for its lack of Jewish representation in a story that allegedly pivots around Judaism. That certainly didn’t seem to be the focal point of this production, however, but then it’s also difficult to say what was.

Originally conceived as a trilogy of one-act musicals by William Finn and James Lapine, Falsettos is a conglomeration of In Trousers, March of the Falsettos, and Falsettoland. It centres on Marvin (Daniel Boys), a man trying to maintain his relationship with his ex-wife Trina (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and son Jason (Albert Atack in this performance) after having come out as gay and left them for his boyfriend Whizzer (Oliver Savile). Things take a further complication when Marvin’s shrink Mendel (Joel Montague) becomes romantically involved with Trina, as the show reflects on the wealth of different loves one can experience, and the non-conventional forms it can blossom in.

While its depiction of homosexuality and non-traditional families may have been controversial in the ’80s when March of the Falsettos debuted, the messy story leaves it feeling lacking in substance in today’s (slightly) more accepting climate. It’s hugely noticeable that Falsettos is three musicals stitched together, as characters leap from moment to moment in their arcs without any time being allowed to let these changes develop organically, or for them to settle effectively. The love between Mendel and Trina, for example, feels unearned when most of the buildup is Mendel lecherously fantasising about her during his meetings with Marvin. Finn’s music, too, robs a number of scenes of their emotional heft as nigh-on every song takes on a quirky, light-hearted tone – the impact of darker elements such as domestic violence and terminal illness is completely undermined when underscored by major chords.

However, in a number of moments, the levity of the music, as well as its enjoyably unpredictable use of tempo and key changes, is utilised excellently in numbers such as The Baseball Game, and Pitt-Pulford delivers the stand-out performance in I’m Breaking Down. Boys has superb comic timing, and the mesh of the company’s voices is truly beautiful, although two of them – lesbian couple Cordelia (Natasha J Barnes) and Charlotte (Gemma Knight-Jones) – don’t appear at all until the second act – another sign of the unpolished unification of separate pieces.

The strong performances cannot mask the fact that Falsettos feels disparate, and as though it’s lacking a voice. The chessboard set from PJ McEvoy is superfluous, trying to force a metaphor that simply isn’t in the text, and Tara Overfield-Wilkinson’s direction favours chasing laughs over emotional honesty. Whether these issues stem from the absence of Jewish voices in the rehearsal room, or are just an overall problem with the production will no doubt be the subject of further Twitter debates – either way, Falsettos is missing the specificity that lets it truly land.


Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by The Standout Company



The Other Palace until 23rd November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Eugenius! | ★★★★ | February 2018
Suicide | ★★★½ | May 2018
Bromance: The Dudesical | ★★★★ | October 2018
Murder for Two | ★★★★ | December 2018
The Messiah | ★★★★ | December 2018
Toast | ★★★ | April 2019


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Wasted – 3 Stars



Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 12th September 2018


“The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados”


There are many famous people who continue to live with us through their work, none of whom could have known how famous they would become posthumously. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer, writers Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe and John Keats, the Italian astronomer Galileo (who had to wait three centuries before his theories were accepted) and even J.S. Bach was little known in his own lifetime.

The creators of “Wasted”, the new musical at Southwark Playhouse, are adding the Brontë sisters to the canon, the title of which suggests that the three sisters and their often overlooked brother never achieved the recognition they sought nor found their true vocation. Hence, they believed their lives were ‘wasted’. We will never know if this was a real concern to the siblings two centuries ago, but the writers here drum home the imagined anxieties with a mixture of teenage angst and prophetic irony.

Part gig and part rock documentary, Christopher Ash’s music and Carl Miller’s book chart the struggles, frustrations and heartbreaks of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell. A four-piece band form the backdrop while Libby Todd’s effective use of flight cases and sheet music create the set, reinforcing the rock theme. With hand held mics, the strong cast of four are the lead singers, imbued with a New Wave tension as they sing about being “stuck in this dump” and “we want to write”. The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados.

Although the narrative is often a touch too quaint to comfortably sit with the style of the songs, the cast do pull off the numbers with an anarchic self-possession. And you can detect a rock band’s politics permeating the foursome. Natasha Barnes’ Charlotte is pretty much the lead here; the strong contender in control, who goes onto a successful solo career. She does, after all, outlive her sisters. Siobhan Athwal gives Emily the tortured soul treatment; emotional and wayward while Molly Lynch, as Anne, is the quiet one who nevertheless is the one who comes across as the most interesting. Not to be outdone by this feminine trio, Matthew Jacobs Morgan holds his own and, even if historically Branwell fell by the wayside, Morgan certainly keeps up with the girls here.

All four sing exquisitely and they do wonders to shake off the dusty image of the Brontë family. The rock score reminds us how radical and visionary they were, yet the punch is weakened by stretching the point to its limit. And many of the songs are far too long, which does lessen the poignancy and the power of the material. Likewise, Adam Lenson’s dynamic direction is diluted in a show that does overrun its natural course. Some ruthless editing is needed for it to truly echo the characters who lived fast and died young.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks



Southwark Playhouse until 6th October



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