Tag Archives: The Barn Theatre

Henry V

★★★★

The Barn Theatre

Henry V

Henry V

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

 

Henry V

On The Barn Theatre’s social media channels until further notice

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Rebecca:
Dadderrs | ★★★ | The Yard Theatre | January 2020
In A Way So Brutal | ★★★★ | The Yard Theatre | January 2020
Santi & Naz | ★★★ | The Vaults | January 2020
The Maids | | Hen & Chickens Theatre | January 2020
Tom Brown’s Schooldays | ★★ | Union Theatre | January 2020
Ghost Stories | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Brighton | February 2020
Since U Been Gone | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Fourth Country | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Tin Drum | ★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | February 2020
Superman | ★★★½ | The Vaults | March 2020

 

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The Importance of Being Earnest

★★★½

Turbine Theatre

The Importance

The Importance of Being Earnest

Turbine Theatre

Reviewed – 20th February 2020

★★★½

 

“packs in lots of entertaining elements but teeters dangerously on the brink of panto”

 

An entire cast stranded on a broken-down bus, the producer and stage-manager of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ must make a hasty decision, if the show is to go on. In an evening of quick changes, larger-than-life characters and bustling choreography, they helter-skelter through Oscar Wilde’s iconic parody of constrained Victorian morality. Jack and his friend Algernon have both invented imaginary counterparts, Ernest and Bunbury, to enable them to escape any unwelcome or tedious obligation. As their intentions for marriage intensify, their stories unravel and being Ernest appears to be of the utmost importance.

Written at a significant time in his life, just as his homosexuality was revealed and condemned, it is a deceptively flippant comment on the dual identity many people felt the need to live. London’s vibrant social scene with its clubs, hotels and theatres – not to mention the West End’s red-light district – would have been an irresistible, and therefore common, distraction for the English male aristocracy. Although marriage figures centrally as plot, debate and comment, the homosexual asides, ‘Ernest’, a euphemism for homosexual and ‘Cecily’, a reference to rent boys, are far from subtle. And this is reflected in the flamboyancy of the production which packs in lots of entertaining elements but teeters dangerously on the brink of panto.

Director, Bryan Hodgson, produces a lively build-up of pandemonium as the plot thickens and the denouement accelerates. There are interjections to remind us that the cast are still on their way, but they are inconsistent and aren’t always attuned to the script. The multi-tasking actors, Aidan Harkins and Ryan Bennett succeed in impressively dexterous costume changes which become gradually more frenetic and resourceful with the entanglement of the play. There is a strong repartee established in the opening scene between Jack and Algernon but subsequently the characterisation is less balanced. Harkins’ portrayals of Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism are perhaps unconventional, but are well defined and fit convivially into the world of innuendos. As his own Lady Bracknell, Bennett is suitably overblown, yet his Cecily lacks any real persona. Of course, the point is that they are standing in at the last minute, but there is no real coherence here either.

Technically sharp, Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting accompanies the exaggerated scenarios and the sound (Harry Smith) adds to some odd and rousing moments with Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ summing up Lady Bracknell’s appearance and the farcical scampering around to Brahms’ Hungarian Dance. Denise Cleal’s costumes cleverly combine period style with practical quick- change needs.

Camp, in the very French literary sense that influenced Wilde, this effervescent version of his classic comedy of manners (subtitled by the writer as ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’), piles comic melodrama, slapstick and caricature onto his intellectual farce, producing a colourful rumpus of a show with a fun finale. Perhaps not appealing to everyone’s taste in classical theatre but, judging by the standing ovation, popular with many.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by John-Webb Carter

 


The Importance of Being Earnest

Turbine Theatre until 29th February

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Torch Song | ★★★★★ | September 2019
High Fidelity | ★★★★★ | November 2019

 

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