The Red Barn at the National Theatre
Occasionally you see a glimpse of something revolutionary. Watching this play is the nearest thing to experiencing the first motion picture, witnessing the development of the first picture or seeing the first 3D film. It is not that it has an exceptionally original script – in many ways it revels in the ordinary – but aesthetically The Red Barn incredible. Staging is exceptional; like nothing I have seen before. The acting is effortless and real. This is a psychological thriller that competes with TV dramas of the like of The Killing. Perhaps because it stars Elizabeth Debicki, the elegance and intrigue of the Night Manager comes to mind. Mark Strong takes on the central role capturing the inner conflicts of a man suffering what can only be described as a mid-life crisis. Hope Davis combines the fragility and strength of Ingrid, while Debicki perfects the blasé elegance of Mona.
Georges Simenon understanding of how to disturb is not lost in David Hare’s adaptation. It’s Connecticut 1969, a death in the snow begins and propels the drama which forces characters to question their identity, each other and their role in the world. More than anything it is a work of art. It perpetually messes with perspective; scene and set changes are accomplished by a series of moving screens which interplay with darkness. The audience’s vision is subject to TV-like screens that both conceal and reveal the interiors of the character’s respective houses.
With the realistic sets it is akin to watching a film. Yet we are always conscious that behind this screens are real people, not characters. The line between art and reality becomes blurred, forcing the audience to question, as the characters do: if we are acting are we ever really ourselves? Where does fantasy end and reality begins? Set designer Bunny Christie has created something unique which in conjunction with the lighting and sound makes this a gripping production.
The only way this play can be reviewed is if it is seen. It is so much about the visuals it thrives on the excited atmosphere in the stalls. There are often plays which, although excellent, can be missed. It would be a shame to miss this one. The Red Barn concerns itself with the same questions about man that troubled Shakespeare but its exploration of these themes is strikingly original.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Red Barn is at the National Theatre from 6th October until 17th January 2017 for further information or to book visit here.