Missing live theatre? Step on stage with the brilliant Barnes' People - Liam Rudden

Online theatre productons, as I have said before, are seldom if ever as good as the experience of actually being in the auditorium as the actors bring their characters to life.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 4:30 pm
Jon Culshaw, Matthew Kelly, Jemma Redgrave and Adrian Scarborough in Barnes' People

The idea that you can just point a camera at the action, as so many do, does a great injustice to not just those captured digitally but to the skills of the writer and director who have crafted their work to be watched in the moment.

There are exceptions, of course, and Original Theatre's current production, Barnes' People, is one of them.

Written by Peter Barnes, the four monologues explore the humanity of a quartet of vastly different creations; from Leslie, a long-time servant working at Buckingham Palace, to Rosa, a doctor in London's East End, Michael Jennings, a troubled entertainer, to Adams, a man without faith.

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A​tmospheric and impressive, Barnes​' ​People is so much more than ​just a filmed performance, it​'s a piece of live theatre​ captured in a way that takes you on stage ​​and into the lives of the disparate characters.

​Directed with light, yet intense touches by Philip Franks and Charlotte Peters,​ each monologue offers an intimate insight into the extraordinary lives of four flawed individuals, each with their own troubles and ghosts to battle.

The spotlight falls on Jon Culshaw in Billy & Me​, the story of Michael Jennings​, an old-school ventriloquist who finds the only way to fight the voices in his head is to bring them life. ​A​lone on an empty stage, ​he engages and spars with ​Billy, his stage partner of 25 years​. It's a fascinating study of mental health that finds Culshaw ​on fine form as he ​deliv​ers​ a surprisingly dark​,​ yet sympathetic​,​ study of a man embracing his ​demons ​through his ar​t, which has​​ ​become his therapy,​ in a ​witty, cleverly constructed and bittersweet​ encounter​.

Matthew Kelly, meanwhile, is Adams, a man who once had the world at his feet​ but now sits in a graveyard talking to an old friend one last time, in Losing Myself​. Kelly craft​s​ an intimate, up close and personal performance​ proving just what a ​charming storyteller​ he is through a quite mesmerising​ performance​.

In ​Rosa​, ​Jemma Redgrave​ is b​y turns anguished, demoralised and stoic​ as Dr Rosa Hamiton, an exhausted doctor dealing with the terrifying reality of ageing. As she dictates the most important letter of her life, desperate for a drink, her visceral, emotionally wrought delivery seethes with ​impotent anger as she rages against society’s failure.

The highlight of the four monologues comes courtesy of Adrian Scarborough as Leslie in the World Premiere of A True Born Englishman.

Leslie has been a footman at Buckingham ​P​alace for ​30​ years. Recalling a life of service,​ ​discretion and secrets​, Scarborough’s flawless turn ​as the royal flunkie is stunning. He brings a beautiful pathos to​ his​ fragile creation, a man with delusions of grandeur. Ironic, heart-wrenchingly sad and bitingly funny, it’s ​a ​spellbinding​ performance​.

As we eagerly await the return of live theatre, Original Theatre’s Barnes’ People steps up to ensure that wait is a bit more bearable.

The series of four theatrical monologues​ comprising Barnes' People are available to watch online until ​31 July​, ​£30​ for all four/£32.50 with digital programme, £10 individual monologue/£12.50 with digital programme

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