The Red Barn**** (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

Posted: November 13, 2016 in Theatre

the-red-barn-500x281Not long ago. I criticised a fringe production for pretending to be something that it isn’t – a film instead of a stage play. Acquiring a slightly red face, I am now praising this production for committing exactly the same offence. However, it does it with a great deal more panache, perhaps inevitable given the National’s resources. David Hare’s new play is based upon the noirish novel La Main by Georges Simenon which is set during a freezing Winter in the North-East of the United States.

Two couples making their way back from a party are forced to abandon their car in a blizzard, but one of them, Ray (Nigel Whitmey), fails to make it all the way. Pressed by his manipulative and slightly threatening wife Ingrid (Hope Davis), Donald (Mark Strong) goes out to look for the missing man. Ray’s wife Mona (Elizabeth Debicki) seems strangely unconcerned. So what has happened to Ray and what secret is held by the red barn? No spoilers so no more said.

Hare’s play is a stylish psychological thriller and, as the only thrillers that seem to reach the stage these days have been dredged up from under the Ark, it is refreshingly different. Strong, almost unrecognisable with hair, has to play a man troubled by his lack of charisma, not easy for an actor as charismatic as this, while both Davis and Debickt are as icy as the weather outside. The acting is top class, but director Robert Icke and designer Bunny Christie are the real stars of the production.

Screens that cover the whole stage, opening and closing to reveal and conceal the action, give impressions of zooming in and out and of movement. Icke is able to frame scenes as Alfred Hitchcock may have done for the cinema and heighten suspense. He becomes one of the few directors in recent times to treat the awkward Lyttelton stage as an asset rather than a liability. Will this achievement be matched by Ivo van Hove, arriving here next? It makes for an interesting side contest between the two most recent Olivier award winning directors.

Performance date: 2 November 2016

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