A new play staged in a derelict building offers a powerful take on alienation and racismand is eerily reminiscent of today, writes Antony Hamilton
Director Bill Buckhursts revival of Barbarians is an intimate and intense play about three young lads from south east London.
The year is 1976. Punk has just burst onto the music scene, unemployment is rocketing, and the Nazi National Front (NF) is on the rise.
Yourequite literallyplaced right in the middle of this turmoil. To set the scene, youre led up three floors in the derelict St Martins School of Art.
The building feels as if its been an anarchist squat, with directions to the toilets to graffiti slogans from the time spray-painted on the walls.
Its where punk band Sex Pistols played their first gig in 1975.
Barbarians first scene takes place in a cold and grimy classroom setting.
Paul (Thomas Coombes), Jan (Jake Davies) and Louis (Josh Williams) are unemployed and marginalised. Doing a headstand Jan quips, England makes more sense upside down.
The actors jump up on tables and interact with the audience. They complain about the dole and how theyll find a left hand drive Rover 3500 to steal for Pauls cousin.
The jovial and naive mood feels real and easy to relate to.
Then they burst in waving batons and shepherd the audience into the next room.
Suddenly were outside Wembley Stadium, and Manchester United are playing Southampton in the FA Cup Final.
The group is left outside in the hope of touting a ticket. While it reflects the anger against big football clubs, its about much more. No one will ignore uswe will not be ignored, screams Paul.
The anger and tension builds until Paul brandishes a knife against Louis.
The trio are eventually torn apart in the final scene.
Louis has turned to the black community and work, where he wont be racially abused. Meanwhile, Paul has drifted into hooliganism and the NF. Jans joined the army for job security.
Its Notting Hill Carnival and Paul and Jan are waiting on dates from a newspaper ad before Jan is shipped out to Northern Ireland.
He is skittish and cant relax about snipersall the while Paul is just bothered about shagging a black bint.
The tension in the room builds as the play nears its conclusion.
Jan reaches a point of desperation after an emotional speech, where he draws on his broken childhood and mothers suicide. Paul has been brutally attacking Louis in an orgy of racist violence.
The climax is tense, offering no relief. It is a devastating consequence of a broken society.
This was Britain in 1976but it draws many similarities with today.
Review by Antony Hamilton
Originally from www.socialistworker.co.uk