Pros: Well-written and thought-provoking story. Produced with a great sense of care and understanding.
Cons: Maybe a light din filtered down from upstairs in the pub, but it was ever so slight, and I don’t actually care.
As someone who works and spends time in the West End on an almost daily basis, visiting Barons Court Theatre felt like visiting the countryside (that is, if you swap rolling green pastures, wild hedgerows, nor rugged coastlines for reliable transport links and stucco-fronted late Victorian architecture). Situated amongst a quiet residential area, the attractive Curtains Up gastro pub, home of Barons Court Theatre, will almost convince you that it’s invitation only and you’re in on the secret.
It was a breath of fresh air to escape the tourist-trodden paths of W1 and enter the homely, relaxed bustle of this venue. The theatre downstairs is an intimate but unintimidating space born out of a characterful building, and thankfully that character extends into this small basement room, where the thrust stage invites all three sides of the audience into its stories.
The location of this particular story, Time for Heroes, is a simple but functional community centre in Preston Lancashire, and as such succeeded well in melting into its humble surroundings. It’s a pretty mean feat to transport someone to a different place with just a couple of chairs and a plaque on a wall, but this production pulled it off with thoughtful but subtle design touches. The scene was set before the play even begun, as audience members were provided with an order of service for the installation of a memorial plaque, to commemorate a local soldier lost in the Afghanistan conflict. The authenticity of this object really immersed me in the reality of the play, drawing me in before I’d heard even a word on stage.
The play takes place after the celebration of Lance Corporal Jack Fowler’s life has ended and his uncle, mother and sister are left to clear and lock up. Things heat up when Jack’s childhood best friend Billy shows up uninvited, and his notable absence from the funeral and Jack’s most recent life are pulled into question.
The antithesis to every national cliché of heroism and war that Jack represents, Billy rails against the politics behind our presence in Afghanistan. Duncan Mason played this character really well, coming across as a confused and angry young man, trying desperately to assert his opinions in the face of unsympathetic criticism. Billy’s diatribe, and in fact all the characters’ grievances were written with great understanding; I think it’s a triumph of the dialogue that it doesn’t cast judgement, it simply listens.
Played by Neil Hobbs, Uncle Jim’s gruff nationalism made for great tension with Billy, and the protective and caring qualities of the man that peered through gave his character further credibility. Lesley Molony’s performance as Jack’s mother Joan was similarly convincing; she completely captured the essence of a grieving mother, and her words were echoed in her looks as the almost vacuous stare she held whilst sweeping up the party was the face of a woman whose insides had fallen out, whose world had turned upside down. Jack’s sister Sophie came across as a sweet-hearted young woman who had matured fast through grief. Actress Jenny Coyle moved well onstage (that sounds weird but it’s true, young people walk faster), and I liked the way she darted looks at Billy in an innocent but completely obvious I-fancy-you way.
The tone of this play is straightforward, and beautifully honest. What surprised me was that far from thinking about war I found myself pondering friendship, and Billy’s responsibility to his friend more so than to his country. This is a really carefully crafted script and production that I would absolutely recommend – you might not find yourself thinking about friendship but you’ll definitely leave asking questions.
Author: Kevin Lee
Director: Menelaos Karantzas
Producer: Highwire Theatre Company / Kevin Lee
Design: Nick Gott
Lighting Operator & Stage Manager: Hannah Roza Fisher
Booking Until: 28 February 2015
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Booking Link: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/theatres/book/42