Tooting Arts Club, in association with Soho Theatre, takes Barrie Keeffe’s Barbarians away from the stage, to Central St Martins School of Art for a site-specific time warp into 1970s Britain.
St Martins, where The Sex Pistols first performed, is an apt venue in which to recreate the turbulent 1970s and the gritty, gruff lives of the three boys who become men in Keeffe’s harrowing play.
Three plays, actually. The audience literally follows the characters through three separate times in their lives; each part is performed in a different room of the venue, with the audience being shepherded by actors in police hats and pig noses. We first meet the trio as punk-powered teenagers in a school-like setting.
With dearth of jobs, the boys idolize James Dean and spend their days on the dole stealing motors to sell. As we are transported to the walls of Wembley stadium for the final football match between Man U and Southhampton, and then later to Nottinghill Carnival, the relationship between the once-miscreant minors shifts with the setting and they are confronted by the harsh factors of British life that challenge their friendship and their future.
Director Bill Buckhurst highlights the intricacies Keeffe’s script, including its humour, its anger, and its ultimate tragedy. Louis (Josh Williams) often provides the light-hearted moments of teenage obliviousness. Paul (Thomas Coombes) is the leader of the trio, but his anger and aggression rings alarm bells from the offset, and while his best friend Jan (Jake Davies) is wide-eyed and earnest, it is easy to see the inevitable darkening of what is to come for both of them.
While the production at times feels a bit long, the performances complement each other beautifully and maintain a heightened energy throughout the almost three-hour evening. But it is Davies who is particularly compelling. He portrays Jan’s innocence with subtlety and nuance, and effortlessly captures the character’s slow entrapment in a world in which he does not belong.
“No wonder they call us animals. That’s how they [f**king] treat us.” Paul voices a sentiment rife within Keeffe’s Barbarians. It is a coming-of-age tale in an age of little prospect, where the walls of Wembley and beyond are made to keep people out. What may be the most disturbing is how the play, nearly forty years on, feels particularly relevant and resonant for contemporary audiences. It is a chilling reminder of The Sex Pistols lyrics: “There is no future, in England’s dreaming”.
|What||REVIEW: Barbarians, Central St Martins|
|Where||Central Saint Martins, Granary Square, London, NC1 4AA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Acton Town (underground)|
29 Sep 15 – 07 Nov 15, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£10 - £32|
|Website||Click here to book via Soho Theatre|