Barbarians

Theatre, Drama
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 (© Ellie Kurttz)
1/2
© Ellie Kurttz

Brian Vernel (Paul) and Alex Austin (Jan)

 (© Ellie Kurttz)
2/2
© Ellie Kurttz

Alex Austin, Brian Vernel & Fisayo Akinade

Barrie Keeffe's 1977 play cements its modern classic status with its second major revival of 2015

During the performance of 'Barbarians', Barrie Keeffe's 1977 play about lost young men on the dole, one of the actors handed an audience member a porn magazine.
 
After the interval, the man came back, turned round to me, and said, 'oh, they’ve pinched me magazine.'
 
Now I’ll admit it’s got to be disappointing for an audience member when they think they’ve been handed some vintage wanking material on the house. But this production of Barrie Keeffe’s ‘Barbarians’ is directed by JMK award recipient Liz Stevenson, who won £25k to put on a production at the Young Vic – that budget can only stretch so far.

Fortunately, though, the combination of Keeffe’s startling script, and Stevenson’s vivid production more than compensate for the lack of free porn mags.
 
Following Tooting Art Club's recent pop up production, it may seem unlikely that this incisive but offbeat study of working class masculinity is getting its second major revival in less than three months (although it makes a change from that Shakespeare guy eh) – but it’s a testament to the fact that yesterday’s men were hurt by the chaotic governments of the '70s in the same way that today’s are forgotten by Cameron.
 
As Louis, Paul and Jan file through the dole queues, football becomes their religion: society has offered them nothing, but 11 men kicking around a ball makes them feel a part of something. And yet they are betrayed by the team they love – just as now, the rising cost of the game sees them excluded from a crowd that felt ‘like a giant breathing’.
 
Stevenson also astutely points to the painful link between violence and shame. When Paul is laughed at, his reflex action is to throw his fists. An intelligent performance from Brian Vernel suggests that this is not just mindless brutality, but the manifestation of genuine pain.
 
And there’s a fantastic moment that showcases Stevenson’s playful and inventive talent: the three men dance as though they are robots working on a factory line, every so often breaking off as if they are limbering up for a boxing match. It’s a joyful moment that shows exactly who they are – men who want to work, to play, and to fight.  
 
BY: TESSIE JOHNSON 

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