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We Started to Sing
DALSTON’S Arcola is one of London’s last fringe theatres to reopen its indoor space after two dark years.
They welcome back writer, and in this case also director, Barney Norris to his theatrical home, having had his debut Visitors and its follow-up Eventide staged in the old paint factory in the mid-2010s.
His latest work is perhaps the most evidently personal play I’ve ever seen. In it, he reimagines interactions between his parents and grandparents — “a study of the people whose lives led to mine,” as he writes in his intro.
The intention seems to be to hold a mirror up to the audience to examine the intricacies of their own family lives. It’s almost a therapeutic exercise and there is no doubting Norris’s bravery in putting it out into the world.
Sadly, the series of snapshots stretching over 25 years have an overly cosy and staid feel to them.
The fact that the war stories of his charming but haunted Grandad Bert (a standout performance from Robin Soanes) are easily the most exciting parts of the evening speaks volumes.
The tales told by his equally endearing Grandma Peggy (Barbara Flynn) of her father in WWI are also a memorable moment but frankly that’s a sign that there are too few of them.
A stilted exchange about property moves and local schools between his petulant pianist father David (David Ricardo-Pearce) and his mother’s new partner Rob (George Taylor) is puzzlingly tepid and epitomises the lack of edge throughout.
A darker side of both men is hinted at, but we hardly get a glimpse of it.
The modest set design relies on some lovely vintage video footage of the family, designed by Megan Lucas, and a soundtrack of live piano pieces and songs from a selection of British composers.
These include one from David Owen Norris himself in what isn’t the only meta moment of the closing stages.
This is a heartfelt and in many ways original work which will speak to many, but its overriding quaintness make it a very odd choice for the reopening of one of London’s most vibrant and innovative theatres.
Runs until June 18 2022. Box office: www.arcolatheatre.com.
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