Review: Now or Never (Barn Theatre, online)

True to the Barn Theatre’s programme of innovation in the digital theatre space, they brought us this one-shot, digital song cycle, Now or Never, for one performance on Thursday evening.

Singer-songwriter Matthew Harvey (who also gets the opening number, about his motorbike and the open road), has crafted a show which fits our current times.

In the news reports from Janie Dee which bookend the piece, we hear that the world is in immediate peril, so the premise is really, ‘what matters most to you’ and ‘what would you do’ with limited time.

Ben Collins, director of photography, is behind the single handheld camera which takes us on an exploration of the Barn’s front of house and backstage spaces, stopping off along the way to capture performers and their songs in Ryan Carter’s economical sets.

Matthew Harvey
Matthew Harvey

Each of the first six numbers in this 34 minute piece feel like their own carefully crafted musical, connected by the motivation of the characters to do what they will in immediate threat of extinction.

Upbeat numbers come courtesy of Katie Shearman’s dog song, and a duet from Courtney Stapleton/Eloise Davies on skipping town to go travelling. These look forward to a future which may not be possible, but highlights the resiience of humans under adversity.

Lucy St Louis and Irvine Iqbal have more reflective, personal numbers, reflecting on family and relationships, on separation and loneliness. In current times these may hit home for many the most, as enforced distance continues to keep loved ones apart.

The workspace, and meetings which are as much a bore on Zoom as in real-life, is the concern of Ahmed Hamad’s song, realising his professional face is not the most important one on which to end.

Eloise Davies and Courtney Stapleton
Eloise Davies, Courtney Stapleton

We follow Collins’s camera back through the (now empty) sets dotted around the building, to find the cast assembled (at a social distance) on the theatre stage.

Together, they sing the finale, musing on what comes next. As the camera pans from face to face, a feeling of company comes into play. Joy is the main emotion, and the camera pans to show masked observers, then back again.

This song cycle is a masterpiece of understatement, cleverly staged and beautifully sung. It ticks all the boxes with an emotional range, the chance to see the workings of a space which is just bursting to welcome audiences back, and a cast who rise to the challenge of the livestream.

Although it was promoted as a one-off event, I hope the songs have another life once stages start to mount regular live performance again.

For other reviews of Barn Theatre productions, click here.

Image credit: Jenya Steanson

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Now or Never.

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