Tag Archives: Emily Barber

“Cost of Living” at the Hampstead Theatre

Edward Hall’s venue has a strong reputation for bringing American plays to our shore. Taking directorial charge of this one is clever move, as is getting Martyna Majok’s play over here so quickly – it only won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama last year – because the piece hits the jackpot. It’s the kind of play you really want to win big.

As a story focusing on people with disabilities, Cost of Living answers an urgent need for diversity and representation on the stage. Nobody should knock that, but Hall also knows a fundamentally strong play when he sees one. Following John and Ani, who both need constant care, it is true that some issues raised about the health system and class are more relevant to an American audience… one hopes. But this is a play so full of life, of pain and of love, that it is impossible not to get caught up in.

Jack Hunter and Emily Barber

First taking John, a wealthy grad student, performed superbly by Jack Hunter, and his carer Jess, their scenes are full of wit and tension with the non-disabled Jess as the focus. Her poverty and personality are conveyed with great skill by Emily Barber, who clearly appreciates how Majok is guiding the audience.

An even more complex relationship is that between Eddie (Adrian Lester) and his ex-wife Ani, who was injured in a car crash. The story of her death prologues the play, with a moving meditation on grief that could stand alone as a brilliant monologue. The balance between “glum” events and the play’s humour shows Majok’s skills further. The dialogue throughout is stunning in its naturalism. For a conclusion, both Lester and Barber excel again as the hope that the play never ceases to include is allowed as a final note.

The central scene, which I’d put money on as being the germ of the piece, is something else. Ani (played marvellously by Katy Sullivan) is being bathed by Eddie. Starting with an intense intimacy, this is a sex scene the likes of which you’ve probably never witnessed before on stage. The tenderness is moving, the atmosphere electric and the insight profound. To embody her theme that the smallest mistakes can change – and end – lives, Majok then produces a shocker. Truly, I’ve never heard such gasps from an audience. An unforgettable moment of theatre is what gets you awards, and it makes Cost of Living a priceless play.

Until 9 March 2019


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“The Importance Of Being Earnest” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Adrian Noble’s high quality revival of Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece has more to offer than its gender blind casting of David Suchet in the role of the indomitable Lady Bracknell. It has to be stressed that Suchet is brilliant and very much a star. Without those Poirot moustaches, he’s surprisingly convincing in drag. Did I detect a nod to his former role when Bracknell interviews a prospective groom for her daughter? Notes are taken in a book you can imagine the sleuth using for clues. But more importantly, Suchet has a playful coyness that brings more laughs to a character with no shortage of great lines. The ultimate snob, Lady Bracknell’s disgust at that infamous handbag is as we expect, but Suchet adds a repugnance to the location of Bayswater that should go down in theatre history.

Imogen Doel as Cecily and Philip Cumbus as Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest
Imogen Doel as Cecily and Philip Cumbus as Algernon

Just as good as Suchet is the strong cast that Noble utilises to create a zippy production with just the right amount of irreverence towards a classic. The four young lovers do justice to the play, while adding contemporary touches. Michael Benz and Philip Cumbus play the bachelors, John and Algernon, with as many laddish touches as the text will allow. The scene of them fighting over muffins is daring – I fear for Cumbus choking one night – but pays off. Emily Barber does well to suggest how she might, as predicted, face the “tragedy” of becoming like her mother, Lady Bracknell, while Imogen Doel adds a quirky youthfulness to the role of Cecily that feels strikingly modern. This quartet, plus Suchet, live up to the freshness of Wilde’s script and are sure to please admirers of the play.

Until 7 November 2015


Photos by Alastair Muir

“Cornelius” at the Finborough Theatre

The latest “rediscovery” of a play from the Finborough Theatre is Cornelius by J.B.Priestley and it’s a real gem. A rich text, full of ideas, humour and drama, it is not to be missed. Not content with revealing this hidden treasure, last performed in London seventy years ago, director Sam Yates gives this superb play the excellent production it deserves.

Cornelius is at first a gentle, office-based comedy, with a cast of amusing characters sure to entertain. In a strong ensemble special note has to be made of Beverley Klein who takes on two roles with great skill. Yates handles the comedy superbly with a masterful nod at what a modern audience makes of the more dated moments. Similar intelligence is seen dealing with the social themes that so engaged Priestley: Cornelius runs a business in trouble, in dire economic times, with work interrupted by desperate salesmen and creditors. Cleverly, Yates handles any parallels to our current state with the lightest of touches.

What really interests is Cornelius himself; a fantastic creation, Yates and his lead actor Alan Cox understand him wonderfully. Bluff and blustering, appealing in his modesty and humour, Cox is perfect in bringing out nuance and adding the touch of poetry that makes his character fascinating.

There’s romance for Cornelius but his relationships with the devoted Miss Porrin and the down to earth Judy, finely performed by Annabel Topham and Emily Barber respectively, show two sides of unrequited love that makes the piece feel refreshingly real.

Cornelius contains a touch of mystery and tragedy as well, coming from his business partner, the intense Murrison remarkably portrayed by Jamie Newall, giving rise to dark observations, such as the “scheme and scratch” nature of office work, that are sure to ring true with many. But there is hope in Cornelius that the production embraces in proud style. Yates brings great focus to a tight script, making Cornelius a riveting work and this production is not just the finest on the fringe but one of the hottest tickets in town.

Until 8 September 2012


Photo by Robert Workman

Written 17 August 2012 for The London Magazine