Barbarians is the sum of three one-act plays written by Barrie Keeffe in the late 1970s following Paul, Jan and Louis as they struggle with being broke and bored in London, wishing for something more. This tale of disaffected young men and their journey through life is just as relevant today.
Tooting Arts Club brings Barbarians to the former Central St Martins College on Charing Cross Road, transformed into a theatre with graffiti on the walls. The setting works well for a play with only three characters. The audience moves to different rooms for each play, escorted by the cast dressed as policemen. In each space the cast move through the audience, forcing us to engage in their world. We did well to listen to the advice from the ushers to keep hold of our drinks and place coats and bags under chairs, out of the way of the energetic performers.
Friendship and the need to belong is a central theme of Barbarians. In Killing Time, we first meet Paul, Jan and Louis as three of the many unemployed school leavers, making some cash where they can. Abide with Me joins them at Wembley, desperate to get tickets to see Manchester United in the cup final. In the City we find them at Notting Hill Carnival where they meet again having taken different paths. There is an air of foreboding and an undercurrent of violence that runs through all three plays, reaching its climax only in the final moments of the third.
All three actors are strong, building their characters well and drawing us into their worlds so that we care what becomes of them, even when it’s not pleasant to see. The energy is high throughout; Thomas Coombes as the elder Paul balances well with Jake Davies and Josh Williams as his minions, Jan and Louis.
The sets in all three spaces are simple and don’t distract from the actors. The music and costumes set the time although this play could have been set today and been just as convincing. The lighting works well in the small spaces, moving the action indoors and out.
This is a timely revival well performed in an interesting space; the building only allows for a small, intimate audience so get yourself a ticket while you can. It’s worth arriving in plenty of time to climb the many stairs to the third floor and enjoy a drink in the makeshift bar.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Barbarians is playing until 7 November 2015. Click here to book tickets