Writer: Matthew Harvey
Do we need an apocalyptic musical at the moment? Well the Barn Theatre and its associate artist Matthew Harvey proclaim we do, and how right they are. The end of the world has never been so thrillingly performed.
Now or Never is a seven-song-cycle for seven performers filmed live in a single take around the Barn Theatre. It’s an ambitious project and, like live theatre, much could go wrong, but The Barn Theatre manages it all with aplomb, and the 30 minutes flash by too quickly. Poignant, funny, and redemptive, this musical is perfectly formed.
It begins with a roar from Harvey himself as a man fixing his motorbike when the news breaks that a solar flare is on its way to earth, and which is expected to bring life to an end. Harvey’s song is a love letter to his bike, and in On The Road he sings ‘Five days to fix; Two days to ride.’ An extinction event may be around the corner, but Harvey’s song is life affirming.
Indeed, it’s these kind of positive songs that are most successful. Courtney Stapleton and Eloise Davies play two friends (or lovers?) that realise that their plans to travel the world are truly scuppered. But Let’s Skip Town is an upbeat song and as they say, they still ‘have a lot of unfinished business to finish up.’ It’s a joyous response to their predicament.
Delivering another optimistic number is Ahmed Hamad, playing Miles who’s still stuck in a Zoom meeting even though the clock is ticking down. Pulling off his tie, he decides he’s had enough, and Hamad is effortlessly smooth as the disgruntled office worker.
Other songs like I Need You To Know and You And I sung by Irvine Iqbal and Lucy St. Louis are more contemplative and focus on memories and regrets rather than the future, short as it is. Both singers give dignified and understated performances, bringing some moments of quiet to this ingeniously staged musical.
Only I’m Getting A Dog seems out of place with its comedic tone, and the song has too many climaxes which means that Katie Shearman isn’t really able to give it enough light and shade. There’s an inspiring message within the lyrics, but it gets lost when Shearman belts it out.
With The Barn Theatre’s many spaces representing garages or bedrooms, the swift scene changes, as the cameraman climbs stairs or loops round corridors, are exciting and when, at the show’s finale, we glimpse a handful of staff members in the auditorium, unexpectedly moving. Harvey looks around, proud and amazed, that the show has ended without a single hitch or internet glitch.
This is live theatre and, importantly, even through the computer screen, it still feels like live theatre, like being there. The Barn Theatre has set the bar high: this is how you put on a show.
Reviewed on 1 April 2021