Review: Now or Never, Barn Theatre

RATING: ★★★★

Some of the work written in response to the Covid-19 crisis feels exploitative. Like it's playing on its audience emotions and like it's come too soon, before we've had a chance to process what we've been through worldwide, what we're still going through. But Barn Theatre Associate Artist Matthew Harvey has found a way to create art in response to the pandemic that avoids all of that.

Harvey's new song cycle, "Now or Never," has been brought back for a longer run thanks to popular demand. Directed by Creative Director Ryan Carter, it was filmed live in a single take on April 1, earlier this month. The show is short, at only forty minutes long, making it perfect to watch on your lunch break. 

The connective thread of the song cycle is that all seven characters are responding to impending global catastrophe, as a large solar flare is expected to hit Earth within a week. With Zoom meetings and border lockdowns, the parallels to our current situation are clear without being overdone. Watching these engaging characters face the situation with overwhelming positivity, without downplaying the gravity of the situation, as they each consider how to spend what could be their last week alive is fascinating. 

The innovative filming of "Now or Never" is fantastic and adds a sense of intimacy to watching it onscreen. The show is shot in one non-stop, long shot with one camera (similar to that scene in last year's Oscar-nominated "Pieces of a Woman" film). It makes great use of space throughout the building. The amount of props, including a motorcycle and a television, are also impressive. 

It's hard to see a song cycle without thinking of Jason Robert Brown's "Songs for a New World," but this one does actually bear some similarities musically. Harvey is clearly a talented songwriter, but he also has a fantastic voice that he lends to the opening number, "On the Road." The other songs are performed by Eloise Davies, Ahmed Hamad, Irvine Iqbal, Lucy St Louis, Katie Shearman, and Courtney Stapleton and each brings something unique to their number. Davies and Stapleton's "Let's Skip Town" was definitely my favorite number of the show. 

Harvey's "Now or Never" would be an impressive song cycle for its music or the way it was filmed alone. But the way that it addresses global adversity while avoiding directly talking about the pandemic marks it as a truly resonant piece of art. Furthermore, it's able to find a tone that is upbeat and cheerful, without seeming naive. Particularly considering its short length, I recommend that everyone watch and support this beautiful show. 

You can find more information and buy tickets on the Barn Theatre website. The show runs until May 9. 

Photo Credit: Jenya Steanson

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

Review: An Elephant in the Garden, Poonamallee Productions and the Barn Theatre

RATING: ★★★★

Produced by Poonamallee Productions in collaboration with the Barn Theatre and in association with Exeter Northcott Theatre, An Elephant in the Garden is a unique wartime coming-of-age story now available to stream online. Based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, the play is adapted and directed by Simon Reade. It explores World War II from the perspective of a teenage girl from Dresden, Germany. This one-woman show, with all characters performed by Alison Reid, is the Barn Theatre's latest in a line of fantastic digital offerings. 

An Elephant in the Garden has been performed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Bristol Old Vic and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe, and on tour in the UK. This is the show's first time being brought to the digital stage. Reid, dressed in dungarees and a floral button-down, tells the story directly to the audience. 

The show opens on November 9, 1989 with Lizzie hearing on the radio that the Berlin Wall is being torn down. She reflects back on her childhood in Dresden leading up to the war. Her father worked at the Dresden Art Gallery and the family had Jewish friends. She chronicles how things started to change in the city and her father was called up to war and her mother began working at the zoo. 

Most of the show focuses on the 1945 Dresden bombings and 16-year-old Lizzie, her mother, and an elephant named Marlene walking across the country to try to find safety. Reid brings to life all the people that Lizzie meets along the way from a Canadian Air Force soldier to a countess. 

The show's design is excellent from the fantastic sound design by Jason Barnes to the lighting work by Matthew Graham. In particular, the red lighting as Lizzie talks about the bombing of Dresden is very effective. Max Johns's set design is minimalistic, with its main piece being a bombed out section of a wall, and there are few props used. 

It's Reid who fully emerges us in the story as she brings all of the characters to life. She does a fantastic job of conjuring up visuals with her high-energy body language and voice work. She makes the piece completely engaging for its one-hour runtime. 

It's interesting to explore World War II from a German perspective and to see issues of wartime intertwined with the usual coming-of-age topics like first love and disagreements with parents. This story of a teenage girl and her mother traipsing across Germany with an elephant will touch your heart and make you laugh. 

This is the first of two Michael Morpurgo productions to be revived for streaming by the Barn Theatre. Private Peaceful will air later in April. Buying a ticket for An Elephant in the Garden provides 24-hour access and is available internationally. 

You can find more information and buy tickets on the Barn Theatre website. The show runs until April 18. 

Photo Credit: Farrows Creative

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

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