The Barnes Slasher – The OSO Arts Centre, London

Reviewer: Alex Jacob

Writer: Gavin Fleming

Directors: Louis Cunningham and Maddie Page

The Barnes Slasher will appeal to two categories of people. The first: lovers of black comedies, such as The Ladykillers (William Rose), Hangmen (Martin McDonagh) and The Mousetrap (Agatha Christie). This tightly spun yarn of delightful delinquency is evocative of a certain kind of vintage murder mystery: it is a tale which is at once sweetly familiar and predictable, but with a few twists of its own.

The second category comprises a much smaller subset of the population (but which is no less loyal despite its lesser numbers): Barnes residents. Yes, it’s true: the main victims of this masterclass in mockery are also the mainstays of its audience. Indeed, it is a testament to the writing and marketing of this production that the small community of people for whom it had been written flock to the theatre to be made fun of. This is a production which knows its target audience and delights in parodying them, whilst also remaining accessible for even those who – God forbid – are not Barnes residents.

This is the story of Fenelope (Arabella Lindsay) and her son, Stephen (Christopher Cox), as they seek to climb the property ladder in a market with extremely expensive ladders (£750,000 to be precise). Unable to afford a home for her son, Fenelope begins embarking on more extreme measures to cut house prices (clue: it’s all in the title). But this is a play which is less about the drama of the murders themselves, and more about the dynamics of this little family, and the humble life they have carved out for themselves in smalltown Barnes. Along the way, we meet Flo (an avid hamster enthusiast), Mungo Sponge (a lustful local) and Libby Libitto (a grumpy granny). This dark tale tracks the family’s journey to house-hunting glory, but everyone has an important part to play: each character is vital to the plot. Much like Chekhov’s gun, no object, character or incident is wasted: if it’s on stage then it’s important.

Fenelope and Christopher’s mother-son dynamic is the crux of the show: Lindsay plays Fenelope as a self-proclaimed yummy-mummy (albeit with a slightly unusual job and a cunning streak), while Cox’s skin-fade haircut juxtaposes wonderfully with his mummy’s boy persona. Together, they present a convincing duo: nothing beats a mother’s love for her son, and nothing beats a son’s love for his mother’s payroll. But particular mention must go to Ellana Gilbert as Flo and Gavin Fleming as Libby/Mungo: both actors have limited stage time, but absolutely embody their characters. Even more particular mention must go to Gavin’s rapid costume changes as he uncompromisingly switches between two overdressed eccentric Barnes residents. Gilbert portrays Flo with bashful innocence and masterful control over her uncomfortable smile, while Fleming plays his grumpy granny and randy resident with hyperbolic glee, delighting in bringing these outrageous caricatures to the stage.

Especially clever is the use of staging and audio in this show: in the background, a radio chirps away, delivering pertinent clues and amusing anecdotes to an eager audience. Again, Fleming excels here, offering tightly written soundbites with an audible lick of his lips. Audio is always cued perfectly – an understated achievement which is difficult to get right, and all too easy to get wrong. Bursts of light and darkness (overseen by lighting designer Patrick Richards) effectively indicate the end of scenes, illuminating the stage with an ominous glow as the play takes a dark turn, and a friendly domestic glow as we bask in the warmth of this heartfelt mother-son relationship. The play also makes effective use of a reel, projected onto the wall, hinting at some of the ‘slashing’ that takes place. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity to actually stage some amusing murder scenes (and there is no shortage of famous victims who live in Barnes), but it helps keep the play punchy and concise.

The Barnes Slasher is a brilliant slasher comedy, filled with twists, turns (some predictable, some less so), carefully selected tunes, subtle digs at the Barnes population, and some frankly bizarre moments (watch out for the hamster). It is satire best enjoyed by its victims: a self-proclaimed mockery of the Barnes population which does what it sets out to do with perhaps a little too much relish. But this is a dark comedy with a little something for everyone – a play so amusing that it even had its own actors corpsing at moments (pun very much intended).

Runs until 2 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Eccentric Dark Comedy

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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