Thursday, February 22

Now or Never – The Barn Theatre

The Barn Theatre present an ambitious ‘one-shot’ song cycle for their latest lockdown offering, Now or Never. Matthew Harvey has written a collection of songs exploring how seven characters face a potentially life changing world event.  His aim was to look at individual responses to global adversity without referencing the pandemic.  Whilst he has managed to do this to an extent, the spectre of COVID-19 and its long-term impact looms large over the production, as characters decide to travel more, love without reservation, embrace adventure or quit that soul-destroying job.

The songs are well sung by a talented cast (with standout performances from Irvine Iqbal, Ahmed Hamad and Eloise Davies) and Creative Director Ryan Carter provides the innovative approach as the audience are moved around the space in one continuous shot. This is realised by Ben Collins, Ben Thomas and Alex Tabrizi, who are momentarily glimpsed in a mirror as we move between songs. 

By eschewing snappy edits Now or Never allows the audience to take a breath between songs, whilst also highlighting the silence of the empty theatre.  The movement between rooms also allows for some effective soundscaping as news reports overlap voice messages to provide context for the global adversity the characters face. The shaky camera work provides a feeling of intimacy and the odd technical glitch adds to the liveness of the piece. There are some beautifully judged moments where Harvey’s music has space to resonate and other points where overly dim lighting or a distracting zoom background (why did the meeting chair keep waving papers rather than sharing his screen?!) draw focus. 

The highlight is the show’s finale, where the full company share a stage (socially distanced of course!) and Harvey’s pop-rock palette and rich harmonies are given space to shine.  Here though, the busy camera work is somewhat distracting (there is power in a simple wide shot) and the expansive pan to show the mostly empty theatre, and the small collection of masked observers, feels a little contrived. 

This is a show with much potential both in terms of Harvey’s writing and Carter’s creative vision.  The frisson of excitement seeing a collection of talented individuals sharing a space and singing together suggests that such digital explorations won’t fully replace live theatre, but it is great to see creatives and theatres experiment with the virtual possibilities to provide entertainment in lockdown.

Reviewer: Clare Chandler

Reviewed: 1st April 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★