Monday, 27 August 2012

Theatre review: Barrow Hill

After a couple of fairly intense plays in July, the Finborough Theatre has gone for a more low-key August, pairing Cornelius with a first play by Jane Wainwright in the Sunday-Tuesday slot. Barrow Hill is set in the titular Derbyshire village, outside a 19th-century Methodist chapel that's about to be converted into flats. Kath (Janet Henfrey) is 84 and, with her husband and most of her friends dead, the chapel is now the one place that holds her happiest memories. She decides to camp outside it and protest the conversion, but this conflict has a personal edge to it: The building company that's got the contract is owned by her son Graham (Charlie Roe.) Wainwright's short play keeps coming back to the idea of a legacy being left behind, and it not necessarily being the thing the parent wants to leave their child: Graham himself is having problems with daughter Alison, who doesn't seem as thrilled as he hoped at the prospect of inheriting the building firm.

There's not a lot that's glaringly wrong with the play but, performances aside, there's little to get too excited about either. Cath Whitefield (who was Electra in one of my top shows of 2011) gives a lot of depth to Alison, and there's a real melancholy to her unresolved relationship with Lucasz (Mark Weinman,) her father's employee and about to return to his wife and son in Poland. Henfrey is likeably feisty and the clashes with her son sometimes pack an emotional punch. Meanwhile Kath's treasured memories come to life as a nameless pair of teenagers in wartime costume (Tom Spink and Avye Leventis) are on stage throughout, the present-day scenes interspersed with them replaying Kath's early romance with her husband.

Up-and-coming director Abbey Wright gives Barrow Hill a gentle, considered production - perhaps too gentle, as although never actually boring, it is quite a slow-moving hour. Ironically for a play about memories I don't think there'll be much about this that I'll remember for long, and the more I think about it the more unsatisfying the play is. It rather betrays the fact that it's a first play: In the end it appears the family's legacy will be a font hand-carved by Kath's late husband, a link to the whittling Spink's character does in the background throughout the play. But the metaphor is underdeveloped, and I think that's true of much about this play.

Barrow Hill by Jane Wainwright is booking in repertory until the 4th of September at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour straight through.

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