The Red Barn: Cinema on Stage

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The Red Barn (a new play by David Hare based on the novel, La Main, by Georges Simenon.

 

The Red Barn doesn’t work as whodunit and isn’t complex enough to work at the levels it aims to. Questions of settling, of middle-aged defeat, of sexual insecurity, hover over the play like sketches of ‘Deep Ideas’ that never come into focus. However, I did love seeing it. Part of the reason was Mark Strong as Donald Dodd, the happily married lawyer driven to sex and murder. He looks incredibly fit but manages to also most evocatively conveys a withdrawn and repressed person beaten by life. It’s a potent combination. The other reason is Elizabeth Debicki as Mona Sanders, beautiful, elegant, self-involved as the widow sexy enough to drive Sanders to murder. She’s so magnetic and elegant a presence onstage one can’t keep one’s eyes of her.

What I loved most about the play was the design (by Bunny Christie) and direction (by Robert Icke). It’s an incredible cinematic mise-en-scène. The curtain opens like a frame over an eye. There’s a party scene, where a long cinemascope screen is divided up into three rooms, with the door opening up from behind the frame, indicating a party in the depths we’re not privy to. The walk through the snow happens where the death that is the catalyst to drama occurs is shown behind a mesh curtain, and the characters are afforded full use of the frame to search blindly in the snow, like in an epic. The curtain — sliding panels — acts as a way of reframing the action, so we get the equivalent of close-ups, medium-shots, establishing shots. The ‘frame’/ stage is used so imaginatively that in the scenes were Dodd goes into Sanders apartment, one quarter of the frame is the elevator entrance, more than half is her apartment, and then one gets a bit of the bedroom, which is mostly off-stage. I’ve never seen a play framed so cinematically. But it goes beyond that, the lighting, the pacing, the sound effects, the voice-over sound. It’s something to think about. It’s like the stage has now become cinema but with liveness and presence added. It’s a very potent combination.

 

Seen at the Lyttleton, National Theatre, November 10th, 2016.

 

José Arroyo

 

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