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Theatre Review: The Red Barn @ The National Theatre


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The Red Barn, a new play written by David Hare, premiered at The National Theatre London this week.

Based on the Novel ‘La Main’ by Georges Simenon, The Red Barn follows two couples on their way back from a party, during which they struggle through the snow and not everyone arrives safely.

The psychological thriller has elements of mystery and suspense, and explores relationships with others - but more importantly our relationship with ourselves.

Upon entering the theatre, you are informed that there will be no re-admittance due to the tense nature of the production. Within the first half, the tension is somewhat limited. Half the time you’re wondering whether this is a murder mystery or just a tale of two disrupted relationships. It is neither. David Hares’ writing slowly builds; it allows the audience to get to know the characters to some level and then everything we think we know about them gets turned on its head in the last half an hour.

Although at times the plot can seem slow and uneventful it is hard to fault any of the actors or indeed the staging of the production.

Elizabeth Debicki as Mona is a treat. She glides across the stage and embodies the temptress that she plays. As she slowly seduces Donald (Mark Strong) she entices the audience a long with her. As a leading actress she commands attention and her sharp and intriguing character is portrayed beautifully.

The main stand-out is of course Mark Strong as Donald Dodd. The mental deterioration of the character is subtle at first and then seems to happen all at once. Strong is controlled and every word is spoken with true clarity and meaning. You are on this journey with him – not any of the other characters. He is truly compelling.

Supporting actor Hope Davis plays the uptight Ingrid Dodd to a T. Though not a likeable character, Davis is utterly authentic and she does not fall short of Debicki’s performance as Mona.

Nigel Whitmey, though not featured through most of the play, allows us to know his character, Ray Sanders, very quickly. We know who Ray is and what he is about without need for a two-hour performance. We see how Ray affects other characters so this is vital and Whitmey does not disappoint.

The staging for the production is intense and second to none. Yet again The National are crossing boundaries with what we expect from a proscenium arch theatre. Almost filmic, the stage is revealed by opening rectangles, allowing us to begin to see the surroundings as the characters do and ensuring the audiences’ attention is focused in the correct place. It adds to the overall feel of the production, particularly at the plays climatic end.

The Red Barn may be a slow burner but once all the pieces are glued together in the last section, you understand why. Once again Mark Strong offers an audience at The National a fascinating and truthful performance, as do his counterparts.

The Red Barn is playing at the Lyttleton Theatre. Find out more and buy tickets here.

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