The Barn, Cirencester
5 Stars *****
It’s always an immense pleasure to visit The Barn in Cirencester. The quality of productions they have produced and collaborated on in the few years since they opened has been astonishing and inspiring. That they refused to fold in the face of the pandemic but found incredibly resourceful ways of continuing, supported by their deservedly loyal local (and further away!) audience is very telling. Their creativity and refusal to compromise on quality and detail despite having to scale things back because of the pandemic, is testament to why their audience is so supportive.
One of the first shows I saw this summer after lockdown finished was Kander & Ebb’s THE WORLD GOES ROUND here at The Barn. Outside in the Summer and socially distanced, it lifted spirits and reminded us of the joy of live theatre once again after months of live streamed and archived video recordings from fabulous theatre around the UK. But there is nothing to beat the immediacy, intimacy and actual magic of live performance. The Barn were then one of the first theatres to re-establish Inside Theatre with a critically acclaimed, moving production of Simon Reade’s play adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s PRIVATE PEACEFUL in collaboration with Boxless Theatre. So successful indeed that it will shortly open at London’s Vaudeville Theatre in The Barn’s first West End Transfer. This is a Theatre that means business.
And here this autumn in the Cotswolds, The Barn gives us two immensely talented, acclaimed West End performers, Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker, in a two hander little performed show by maestro Stephen Sondheim in the year of his 90th birthday. This was supposed to the year that theatres up and down the land showcased the work of the composer who has dominated Broadway and West End theatre for the later part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Hopefully these performances will be seen once we are free of pandemic strangulation of theatre, but for now, The Barn Theatre pays tribute with a fabulous production of Sondheim’s Marry Me A Little, first produced Off-Broadway forty years ago in 1980 and then seen at London’s very tiny Kings Head Theatre two years later in 1982.
Sondheim wrote both the music & lyrics to all songs in Marry Me A Little with the revue itself conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René taking songs cut from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, and from the not-yet-produced Saturday Night and creating a sung-through, dialogue free piece of two single New Yorkers , sharing imaginings, wonderings and yearnings about a possible relationship without actually leaving their individual apartments to meet each other in person. They never know of each other’s existence ~ bittersweet indeed.
So many wonderful and complex songs demand fabulous vocalists and in Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker we have excellence and musical & dramatic artistry at their finest, under Arlene McNaught’s Musical Direction. Simply superb!
From Celinde’s Fabulous soaring opening vocals to Rob’s closing notes of this piece, we are swept along by stupendous singing from both, together with evocative, poignant, fun and wistful storytelling and crystal-clear articulation throughout.
Gregor Donnelly’s wonderful set immediately makes it clear that whilst we are looking at one stage, we are seeing two very different apartments. The back wall of both raw brick and smooth plaster frames the central sofa which is split into two different colours, immediately separating apartments. Each occupant has a different story to tell. Director Kirk Jameson brings the setting forward to current times by clever and contemporary use of a large central screen above the sofa which projects New York window views, photographs, graphics, texts and Instagram messaging from both characters. As always at the Barn, projection design by Benjamin Collins is superb with beautiful lighting by Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner.
I first discovered the immensely talented and vocally versatile Rob Houchen back in October 2018 when he played the title role in the bonkers but brilliant EUGENIUS at The Other Palace and it was then a revelation to see him the following summer 2019 in the exquisite London premiere of Adam Guettel’s, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at the Southbank Royal Festival Hall where he starred alongside Celinde Schoenmaker (they both later reprised their roles for the production’s American transfer to the Los Angeles Opera in October 2019). Since then he has played Marius inLES MISÉRABLES and will resume this role for the Concert performances at London’s Sondheim Theatre from December. Celinde Schoenmaker played Renate Blauel in the Elton John biopic ROCKETMAN in 2019 but her glorious voice was first heard in the UK as Fantine in LES MISÉRABLES and then as Christine in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Marry Me A Little has no plot as such but any lack of a cohesive story is more than made up for by a wealth of musical fabulosity which Sondheim aficionados would particularly revel in. These are not sub-standard rejected songs but as rich in Sondheim intricacy, harmonies, musical motifs, lyrical genius and brilliance as any. Two tremendous artists interpret and sing evocative, clever and beautiful songs with style, elegance and musical artistry including Two Fairy Tales and the very different Bang! (cut from A Little Night Music); Can That Boy Foxtrot!, All Things Bright And Beautiful, Uptown Downtown, It Wasn’t Meant To Happen and others (cut from Follies); There Won’t Be Trumpets (cut from Anyone Can Whistle); So Many People and A Moment With You (from Saturday Night); and Happily Ever After and of course the beautiful title song Marry Me A Little (cut from Company). And many more…
Live Theatre is most definitely safe and thrilling in the hands of The Barn. They richly deserve their funding allocation from the government’s culture recovery fund and I cannot wait to see their next production. Meanwhile do not miss this unique opportunity to see Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker in this tremendous revival of Sondheim’s Marry Me A Little.
Book YOUR tickets here! https://barntheatre.org.uk/performances/marry-me-a-little
MARRY ME A LITTLE is running until the 8th November 2020
Photos by Eve Dunlop