Review: David Hare's THE RED BARN starring Mark Strong at the National Theatre, Lyttelton

When David Hare’s new production of The Red Barn was announced to be opening at the National Theatre last year, I was excited: Hare’s work constantly intrigues me and the idea of this murder-mystery-style thriller got me excited, so I was very disappointed when I left the Lyttleton Theatre after finally seeing the show feeling like the worst part about the show was the story itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, the story isn’t necessarily bad, it just isn’t exactly good. It’s slightly boring and the complexity of it was so dull, I just think it should be called a drama as opposed to a thriller as there wasn’t any thrill to it at all. It had the same level of depth and draw to it as a Tuesday night episode of EastEnders and considering it’s a play by David Hare – adapted from a well-known French novel by Georges Simenon no less – it was disappointing.

Hope Davis plays Ingrid and Nigel Whitmey plays Ray in The Red Barn

The story of The Red Barn centres around Mark Strong’s character Donald Dodd, his wife Ingrid Dodd and his best friend’s wife Mona Sanders after a snow storm takes places on their way home from a party. On the way to the Dodd household, Mona’s husband and Donald’s best friend Ray manages to get lost in the storm in unknown circumstances and Donald is sent to go and find him, but he doesn’t manage it. The rest of the play follows how Ray being out of the picture lets Donald live the life he’s always wanted to lead, even if it doesn’t end exactly how he wanted it to. It’s basic, highly predictable and feels long despite only being a single-act 110-minute play.

The cast however are fantastic. Every time I see Mark Strong on stage, it feels like I’m watching the male stage equivalent of Meryl Streep. He is fantastic at anything he touches and while this role seemed to be beneath him in some ways, he was a star nonetheless. Elizabeth Debicki played Mona and while she did tend to annoy me a lot throughout the show, I feel like you were supposed to take the character like that and I appreciated it. I much preferred Hope Davis as Strong’s on-stage wife Ingrid though and while she isn’t in it all too much and she certainly isn’t the centre of attention, she seems to be the only normal one in the play by the end of it.

Mark Strong shines like the star that he is next to Hope Davis in The Red Barn

The cast aren’t the best part though and if you’ve heard anything about this play then I’m sure you know what is: Bunny Christie’s fantastic scenic design on this play is nothing short of perfect. Her work before this on show’s like Curious Incident and People, Places and Things gave her Olivier and Tony Awards for a reason, but this play is something else. It felt constantly as if you were watching a film live on stage as these vast sets managed to change so quickly and seamlessly behind a well-directed series of black curtains that, when moved correctly, felt like you were zooming in and out on camera angles in a film. It’s hard to put into words exactly what Christie did with this play, but it is marvellous and is worth the ticket price for this show alone.

Elizabeth Debicki makes a fantastic turn as Mona Sanders in The Red Barn

While The Red Barn isn’t telling a narrative that is anything out of the ordinary, this play’s fantastic cast and sublime scenic design are precisely what makes this show good as opposed to average. Perhaps a better story would’ve made the piece more enjoyable, but I’m glad that what it lacked in complexity was sure made up for in the visual element.

The Red Barn continues its sold out run at the National Theatre, Lyttelton through Tuesday only.

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