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. 

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