Friday, 2 April 2021

REVIEW: Now or Never at the Barn Theatre (Online)

The creative team at The Barn Theatre in Cirencester who produced the brilliant modern reimagining of the Oscar Wilde story of The Picture of Dorian Gray have again shown their innovative approach to the challenge of Lockdown and streamed content with this new musical work, Now or Never. Described as a nonstop one-shot song cycle, the 38-minute video does what it says but does it in a technically wonderful way that just has to be admired. 

The seven songs are written by Matthew Harvey who also plays one of the seven characters we meet as the camera sweeps around the Barn venue. Every song is a delight with a different message, tone and style reflecting each character’s response to the news that a solar flare will hit earth in seven days threatening extinction. What would you do as the news breaks and a cacophony of news and speculation hits the airwaves? 

Freddie Tapner (of the wonderful London Musical Theatre Orchestra) is the Musical Supervisor and brings his love of musical theatre and infectious energy to the cast. The Director of Photography Benjamin Collins (Barn Theatre Media director) and Sound Designer, Harry Smith (Barn Theatre) capture the whole sequence exquisitely with delicately arranged lighting perfectly illuminating the characters as we meet them and capturing the vocals perfectly. Ryan Carter effectively stages and directs the piece as a seamless response to the News Report.

First up we meet Scott (played by Matthew Harvey) in the bar where he decides to use five days to repair his BMW motorbike before two joyous last 2 days riding it. It is an excellent rock lament full of passion and determination to enjoy the time. We move onto the stage set with a door and a bench where Katie Sherman’s response is to get a dog or two or three in a sweet melodic comic tune which is beautifully sung.

In a nearby office, we meet Lucy St Louis an author in a reflective mood wondering how to use the time to give her warrior girl character the words “to give the end you deserve” because it “matters how it ends”. Upstairs in the studio, we meet Courtney Stapleton and Eloise Davies who decide to use the time to get to Paris (even though the borders are closed). It is a gentle county and western-style duet for the adventurous couple who want to “get as far as they can get”.

In an armchair we find Irvine Iqbal writing a letter to someone who he used to exchange letters within a regretful melancholy tune that might be a musical theatre scene setter, a little bit reminiscent of Les Mis. He sings he “should have taken your hand” and we want to find out more about his past and the correspondent. From there we go to Wardrobe where Ahmed Hamad sings an upbeat up-tempo song rejecting his normal routine and seeing “the future ahead of me” and that it is “not over yet”.

The finale is back downstairs on stage where the seven singers come together in a song that I could imagine Elton John and Bernie Taupin writing about “follow the road whatever happens next” as “today is for the taking” and “we get to go on”. The seven voices complement each other blending together for an optimistic conclusion.

This has the feel of a musical workshop of new songs but is beautifully sung, wonderfully captured and has the stamp of quality about it. These people know what they are doing in producing the work. If anything, the material needs more development, telling more story, weaving together the themes and backstories, making us care more about the outcome or questioning what we would do in this situation. Writing a letter, mending a bike, getting a pet seem quite frivolous responses. Where are the responses to friends, parents, and children? Where are those who panic and those that deny? A true reflection of the pandemic lockdown of the last year would surely reflect these themes which have been a feature of daily news stories. Perhaps as the piece is developed these elements will emerge.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

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