Mark Strong is excellent as a man doubting his entire life in this stylish new production from Robert Icke
‘The Red Barn’ is billed as a thriller. And it kind of is. Though if you’re hoping for explosions, gun battles or large numbers of aggressively exciting events you may start to freak out a bit when the penny drops that wunderkind director Robert Icke’s immaculately stylish production a) has none of these, and b) doesn’t have an interval. Instead it’s an unsettling study in masculine inertia, its exquisite stillness, bleak undercurrents and fascination with genre, sharing as much with the films of the Coen brothers – specifically 2009’s ‘A Serious Man’ – as the usual stage influences.
David Hare’s adaptation of a very obscure 1968 novella by prolific French detective writer Georges Simenon, ‘The Red Barn’ is, at first, a mystery about two couples – Ingrid and Donald Dodds, Ray and Mona Sanders – who head for the Dodds’s Connecticut house on a blizzard-lashed night only to discover that Ray has disappeared.
As ‘The Red Barn’ develops it soon becomes clear that it’s less about what happened to Ray, and more about what Donald did in the two hours he was out looking for him, and what those two hours mean for the rest of his life.
It’s a starry production, with Strong giving a quietly devastating performance as Donald, a man slowly, painfully coming to realise that he has spent a lifetime trapped by his own mediocrity, that he’s just a cog in the well-oiled machine of New England WASP society. But there is no pity to ‘The Red Barn’ or a sense that Donald has been hard done by: it is ruthless about his weaknesses and scathing about his awakening. Elsewhere, Elizabeth Debicki (‘The Night Manager’) is striking as the emotionally numb Mona. And US actor Hope Davis is understatedly excellent as Ingrid, whose manipulations are so subtle Donald half-doubts that they exist.
But the cast are all ultimately subsumed by Icke’s daringly slow production, which carries them on with impassively glacial force. ‘Cinematic’ is a word that’s flung around a lot, with varying degrees of meaningfulness. But this is as cinematic as theatre gets. Heck, it even has a title sequence, as the title is hesitantly typed out on a blizzard-drenched scrim.
Even if you hate Icke’s production – and some people will surely find its slow pace unbearable – you’ll have to admire the remarkable scene changes, where a moving gap in the screens pans like a camera, zooming in and out on the action, disorientatingly, sometimes playfully introducing us to a next scene that looks nothing like the last one. Designer Bunny Christie and an exemplary creative team have done a remarkable job, with stage manager Sarah Alford-Smith deserving massive credit for overseeing the transitions.
In a way, those transitions are the highest drama of the play, spiking its disquieting stillness and sly film noir nods with some startling old-fashioned stage magic. ‘The Red Barn’ will divide audiences, but if you can surrender to its crepuscular ebb and flow and wincing interrogation of masculinity then it will indeed thrill.
Average User Rating
3.1 / 5
- 5 star:5
- 4 star:3
- 3 star:2
- 2 star:8
- 1 star:2
Clever scene-changes were the best thing about this boring play. I now understand why there was no interval in this 1 hr 50 minute production - they were afraid the audience would not return for the second half. None of the characters were sympathetic or engaging, and I couldn't care what happened to them. It was monotonous, played all on one level of pace and tone. The occasional emotional outbursts were out of place and unnatural. What a waste of talented actors. The stage set was excellent however.
This play focuses on the private hell of a man trapped in an unexciting marriage. All the other characters are merely props to support this main idea. So the question arises as to what made Hare think this story was essentially 'dramatic'? There is surely a good reason why this story originated as a novella rather than a full-length play!
Saw this last night (wed 12th). I love the director's previous play, the fantastic version of 1984, and the best bits of the Red Barn share that same cinematic sensibility. There are moving aperture transitions, framing devices that leave characters boxed like in a film noir graphic novel.. it looks awesome.
And then the script lets it all down. Ponderous, navel gazing monologues. No real development. In a case of nominative non-determinism Mark Strong plays an incredibly nebbish character, and does it well. It paints a clear picture of a certain type of life, but doesn't leave much room for surprises or twists.
I think the story would work better as a film. There are long, lingering silences - I'm sure that the actors were working their facial muscles intensely but sitting back a few rows and it literally looks like two characters are statues for 10-20 seconds at a time. Maybe it's a stylistic choice. With some close ups, macro focus, more cinematic touches.. perhaps this would be thrilling rather than a "thriller".
Wait for the DVD.
Oh dear oh dear. When will the directors at the Littleton learn that plays where the actors cant be heard except in the stalls are just plain boring. Come on it basic stagecraft to check that audibility and the curtaining there is a huge acoustic barrier. Come on guys
This is a hard watch in that none of the characters are likeable. From Donald our emasculated anti-hero, Ingrid his cold & controlling wife, Ray the play boy best friend & his aloof wife Mona, they are all unappealing souls. It's hard to connect or empathise with any of these superficial & flawed people. The production is slick with excellent sets. It was more like watching a film than a play. The atmosphere is claustrophobic & brooding plus the final twist was unexpected. Quality production but I felt strangely flat yet disturbed by the experience.
The story is dark and bleak and you think it will just get bleaker and sadder but it's actually also a mystery. The set changes are amazing. The casting perfection. The character Mona's wardrobe is to die for. But the story leaves you with less hope...
Phenomenal. The acting was superb, the costumes, the set and the set changing was absolutely fantastic. How on earth did they do that? It took us a long time to get back into the real world once we'd left the theatre. It really lingers with you. I have two wee criticisms: One, get a better gun. Looked and sounded a bit amateurish. Two: why do the actors at the curtain call look so bloody miserable? All in all fantastic theatre.
I loved this - it all came together excellently: the innovative staging, the powerful but understated performances from the three leads and supporting cast, the quick cuts between the scenes and the way it slowly built to its unexpected conclusion. I would particularly commend Mark Strong and the way he sort of unveiled his character through the production. A couple of hours well spent.
The actors were excellent and the stage design was brilliant. It’s a psychological study that is subtle but very well done.
With such a top billing of cast, writer and director I was expecting so much more. It is tedious, as others have said the staging is clever, but that does not make up for the mononity. Avoid.
The best thing about this is at the very clever and well executed set design which we really enjoyed. However it is very slow moving and the dialogue is quite unrefined. Non of the charactors are very sympathetic or attractive so it is hard to maintain any interest. Also there is very little tension or surprises so fails if it is trying to be a thriller. We were in the upper circle and the sound was very poor, try and get a stalls seat if you can.
I thoroughly enjoyed this play and was pleasantly surprised based on the user reviews I read here. As others have mentioned, the stage design and direction was indeed very impressive. I have never witnessed a play that had such an impressive delivery of the setting and environment. The scene changes in particular were executed very well and provided the tension a thriller should have. This is a modern way of telling a story on the stage and it was very effective.
As for the story and the play itself, I thought the story was good, however it would have benefited from one or two additional dramatic scenes to build the tension toward the finale. If these existed I would have included an intermission as well as tighten up some of the dialog in the slower scenes.
The cast were all excellent, in particular Mark Strong who had a difficult job in playing the lead with an intentionally average character.
As a closing comment, The Red Barn certainly makes an impact that stays with you on the journey home and the following days.
I was a little worried after reading some of the miserable reviews here, but I personally loved it. The stage design alone is worth the visit, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the play itself. It is very low key and subtle and smart and beautifully acted and held my attention the entire time. Curious to see what the critics have to say, but I am glad I saw it before press night and let myself be pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately it's a real bore: neither has the story any suspense, because it's very soon obvious what has happened nor have neither the plot nor the characters any true depth that would interest you or their psychology. Instead of that everything about that show is heavy with meaning withouth really having any: slowly spoken dialogue, low energy, pseudo gloomy sound design and even the at first impressive scene changes get more tedious with every repetition. And what was that unnecessary strobe light effect that had been shot several times into the audience ?!
If you do not like psychology and dialog don;t go! But if you do, you will fall in-love with the play! Would highly recommend it!
While the actors were good, especially Elizabeth Debicki, the story was boring and a bit pointless. The sound, set and set changes were interesting but apart from that I left the theatre thinking "That was it?" No strong messages, themes or anything that gave food for through.