Writers: Paul Bradshaw and Naomi Miller
Director: Paul Bradshaw
Although advertised as a ‘semi-staged’ reading, this thriller about two strangers meeting in a storm in Texas in the 1980s still feels too static. Originally livestreamed from The Turbine Theatre, The Barn feels more like an early Zoom play with a split screen, and there’s no sense that the two actors are on the same stage.
With the cameras fixed upon the faces of Ben Turner and Evelyn Hoskins, a suitable claustrophobia is gained, but the actors may have well dialled in from home if director Paul Bradshaw is intent on keeping them separate. Thankfully, the acting and the story, the first half at least, keep the audience interested, although the 90 minute play (not including the interval) could do with some trimming in this digital iteration.
Hoskins plays Lucy whose car has broken down. Her husband has gone off to find fuel, but when the storm breaks she goes to the nearest house for shelter. Ben Turner’s Joe welcomes her with bourbon and dry clothes. The slow-moving storm means it’s going to be a long night. While they play cards and share memories, a growing tension implies that these two people harbour secrets that perhaps unite them in some way. Joe’s wife and daughter have recently died – the daughter mysteriously – and Lucy does not seem the slightest bit worried about her husband out in the thunder, lightning and torrential rain.
In spite of the odd staging, there are a few shocks which will make even more of an impact when The Barn plays in a small theatre on a winter’s night, the audience sat close to the action. And although a digital audience does not witness the more dramatic events of the play – instead, a voice, reading the stage directions, tells us what’s happening – it is rewarded with continuous close-ups of the actors’ faces. Hoskins is a nervous but persistent Lucy, while Turner’s ability to shed such genuine tears is remarkable, and it’s hard not to warm to the old war hero with only a dog for company.
The trains running into Victoria seep through the sounds of rain, and yet it’s easy to imagine them as freight rains on the Texan railroad, and their rumble underlines the desolate situation that Lucy and Joe find themselves in. The dénouement of Bradshaw and Naomi Miller’s script is a little weak, but what they have built instead is an atmosphere full of intrigue and danger. And to do that online with two fixed cameras is no mean feat.
Runs here until 27 May 2021