THEATRE REVIEW: Barbarians

WORTH A LOOK?: *****

WHERE: Young Vic

WHEN: 5/12 (matinee), runs to 19/12

‘If you treat people like animals, they’ll behave like them.’ It’s an observation by protagonist Paul (rising star Brian Vernel, menacing and brilliant here) referring to football clubs’ treatment of their fans as he waits ticketless outside the only game he’ll miss this season, the 1976 FA Cup final, but it references much else here.

The audience meets Paul, Jan (a heartbreaking Alex Austin) and Louis (a sensitive Fisayo Akinade) as we enter the Young Vic’s 60-or-so-seater The Clare and they are Dr Marten-booted and prowling the auditorium, unsettling as they scuttle about the split levels behind us or staring us in the eye, challenging our right to be there.

It’s a bold statement of intent by 25-year-old director Liz Stevenson as this 1977 play by Barrie Keeffe opens with these three young men contemplating their unemployment, along with their careers advisor, in Lewisham, south London, and also stealing a car to order.

Later we meet them outside the cup final where their team – Manchester United, oddly – is expected to win but they cannot afford a ticket despite having travelled the country to attend every game. In the final act, we are at the Notting Hill carnival where education and training have helped Louis, Paul is furious at the hand life has dealt him and Jan seems resigned – and terrified – by his fate. When casual racism is challenged, the events are life changing.

This is the second production of Barbarians London has seen in recent months and its subject matter clearly has resonance now. TV viewers will be familiar with Akinade from Cucumber and Banana and Vernel from The Last Kingdom (we also caught him at the Old Vic in Future Conditional).

The collision of ambitious director, extremely talented young cast and challenging writing makes for a most unsettling and memorable watch.

  • Picture by Ellie Kurttz (left to right Alex Austin, Brian Vernel, Fisayo Akinade) via Facebook courtesy Young Vic
  • Tickets via the venue, although they are limited.
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham

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