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Sunday, 22 May 2022

REVIEW: Rogers & Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening at the Barn Theatre

The Barn Cirencester’s promotional brochure promises for Rogers & Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening an “enthralling review of some of their most stunning compositions with a glorious parade of genuine hits” and Director Paul Milton explains that the show is “carefully constructed” presenting some of the songs with “a twist or unexpected interpretation”. For this to be true the audience needs to be familiar with the song and its original context. Although nearly everybody in the audience will be familiar with the five big fifties musical hits, Oklahoma! Carousel, South Pacific, King and I and The Sound of Music from either stage shows, or the film versions they are unlikely to recognise songs from State Fair, Allegro, Flower Drum Song, or Cinderella. It is only in the final medley that the show finally takes off into a celebration of their hit songs with “My favourite things”, “Lonely goatherd”, “Oklahoma”, “June is busting out all over” and “Happy talk” before the title song “Some Enchanted Evening”, all genuine hits which at least sending you home humming the tunes and smiling.

Before that the careful construction is a rather bizarre concept by Jeffery Moss, creating more of a sense of a rehearsal room or audition with sound checks in the opening twenty minutes with house lights on. Without any narration or song list to guide us you spend the first few moments trying to recall the song and the show it was from and before you know it, they have switched to another song in not so much a medley as a mash-up. Each of the performers is given a stage name connected with the Composers but for no discernible reason, Nellie (a character in South Pacific) sings "I Have Dreamed" from the King and I but Will (from Oklahoma) sings ”Younger Than Springtime" from South Pacific.

Friday, 30 July 2021

REVIEW: Stones in His Pockets at the Barn Theatre

Stones in his Pockets is a very well written play by Marie Jones and ran for several years in the West End from 2000 to 2003 to great acclaim and has now reached the 25th anniversary of its first production. It is a funny but moving story of a group of extras on a Hollywood film in rural County Kerry, but its unique trick is that all the characters are played by two male actors. This revival at the Barn Cirencester (which was streamed from a single camera capture for reviewers to watch) sticks with the original production styling although there were two notable updates as Extra Vision who drive Charlie out of business is updated to Amazon Prime and the extras day rate has increased from £40 to 100 Euros!

Its success depends on the two actors who play the storytellers Jake and Charlie and their effectiveness in creating the rest of the recurring characters with a minimum of costume changes and props. Director Matthew McElhinney (the son of the author & the original Director Ian) successfully ensures that the transitions between characters are slickly and effectively achieved. He creates a generally fast-paced show with the two young actors Shaun Blaney as Jake Quinn and Gerard McCabe as Charlie Conlon who meet on the set of a film. Charlie is “on the run from himself” following the collapse of his business and responding to an advert for Extras in return for great money and free grub! Jake is a local lad who has had a spell in America but returned because he was homesick.

Friday, 11 June 2021

REVIEW: A Russian Doll at The Barn Theatre in Cirencester

The title of this 1-hour political monologue suggests the mystery and delight of the Matryoshka dolls, the stacking dolls that are a classic souvenir of tourists to Russia which implies ever more interesting revelations as they are unpacked. This nested doll metaphor implies an object within an object is revealed in the secrets behind the Facebook stories that influenced the 2016 Brexit Referendum. However, the monologue is monotone with a steady level of unemotional delivery in a heavy Russian accent that needed some variation in tone, a little light relief and a genuine feeling of fear of the consequences of not complying with the paymaster's instructions. 

Rachel Redford who graduated from RADA in 2013 plays Masha, a Russian undergraduate in St Petersburg who is recruited into the misinformation team of the FSB, the Federal Security service responsible for counterterrorism and the protection and defence of the state. She mines social media for data on influencers in the UK and then subtlety feeds them information to stir up and amplify fears in a cyberwar to affect the outcome of the referendum. We never meet Jay-Z the misnamed leader of the unit or her co-worker Dima and I think it would have been more interesting if we had to add to the dynamism of the piece. Redford does well as the cold almost mechanical cyber warrior who likes cold coffee and cold food and is as unemotional as Putin himself. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

REVIEW: An Elephant in the Garden by Poonamallee Productions with the Barn Theatre and the Exeter Northcott Theatre

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has been one of the successes of Lockdown with a string of interesting and well-produced shows from their venue. An Elephant in the Garden, which was filmed at the Barn Theatre during the third national lockdown was produced with Poonamallee Productions in association with the Exeter Northcott Theatre. Although it does not quite reach the creative and innovative heights of some of their earlier shows but it is a well-produced storytelling monologue.

Based on a book by Michael Morpurgo it is designed as if performed in a simple circus ring in November 1989 as the Berlin Wall comes down by Alison Reid as Lizzie who creates all the characters herself. She tells the story of her escape with her mother from Dresden as it is bombed by the Allies and they become refugees heading West in 1945.What makes the story different is that her mother brings a four-year-old elephant, Marlene, home from the zoo to avoid it being put down and it becomes part of the escape. Sadly, the creative team have opted for an Elephant shaped broken wall at the back of the stage and Lizzie’s stomping action to create the animal rather than a form of puppetry. A War Horse like creation would have added more interest and depth to the storytelling.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

REVIEW: The Picture of Dorian Gray (Online)

The 12 months of Lockdown has forced the more inventive producers and directors to reinvent their creative processes to continue to reach their audiences who are unable to attend their favourite venues for a live performance. Five regional venues led by the team at The Barn Theatre in Cirencester have coproduced this modern reimagining of the Oscar Wilde story of The Picture of Dorian Gray in conjunction with nineteen regional partner venues to promote to their audiences’ bases. The resulting ninety-five-minute film is an extraordinary disturbing modern retelling of the story of obsessive desire for beauty and sensual fulfilment. 

Henry Filloux-Bennett, the artistic director of the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, has written the production taking the core characters from the original book and placing them in the social media world on 2020/21. Dorian Gray becomes a second-year university student Vlogger obsessively trying to build subscribers. The artist Basil Hallward becomes a married developer and part-time photographer, usually represented as an avatar on a youtube channel, acting as a social media avenger discussing anxiety, stress and depression. Lord Henry Wotton becomes the self-obsessed Harry being interviewed and reflecting on his relationship with Dorian. The actress Sibyl Vane becomes an eighteen-year-old actress creating Shakespearean videos for her @sibvane2000 channel. When she gets a big break to appear with RSC stars on stage, she dries mid-speech with dramatic consequences.
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