Thursday, 22 July 2010

Barnstaple by James Saunders. Kings Arms Barn, Henley Fringe Festival.

Written in 1959 as part of the trilogy Ends and Echoes, Barnstaple is a one-act play that takes place in the drawing room in an English country house one spring morning. As becomes clear the backdrop is a stagnating post war Britain still scarred by war and blighted by Suez.
Saunders, a contemporary of Pinter, catches the spirit of the ‘absurd’ – a world where lives are governed by outside forces that the audience and the protagonists never quite get to grips with. Although there are constant references to the title ‘Barnstaple’, we are never sure of who or what it could be.
On the whole  it is a conversation piece and its love of language certainly suited to the intimacy of the ‘Barn’. Leading actor Jeremy Child said last week that he regarded the venue as a challenge. Fortunately, for us, he resolved any such issues. and directed by Caroline Hunt delivers a superb lead performance as obsessive doctor Charles Carboy.
Whilst  the other Carboys, Helen (Jane Trainer) and Daphne (Sally Nesbit)  meander through the trivialities of their lives, arranging flowers and drinking  tea with the Reverend (Richard Howard)  a somewhat malignant force is turning their world on its head.  Furthermore, no one seems to be aware or even care that the maid Sandra (Faith Flint) is going insane. Is she really mad or just more ‘savvy’ than her employers?
In this aspect, it quite closely resembles Sarah Waters’ recent novel The Little Stranger by addressing the same post war issues. The shots that ring out and the crumbling house act as rather crude metaphors for class erosion. By the end of the piece, the Carboys sit amongst the rubble still somewhat oblivious to the monumental changes to their lives.
However, it worth noting that early in his career Saunders told an interviewer: "If there's any theme that runs through my work, it's the absurdity of finding logic in anything at all."
So should we leave it at that? It is after all only theatre and despite its brevity Barnstaple is still a thought provoking piece that begs more questions than it answers. Whether Saunders should be remembered as one of England’s better dramatists and worthy of revival is another matter. 

Originally published Henley Standard, Henley On Thames, England.

No comments:

Post a Comment