Theatre Review – NOW OR NEVER – Barn Theatre [Online]

Courtney Stapleton and Eloise Davies in NOW OR NEVER.

Courtney Stapleton and Eloise Davies in NOW OR NEVER. Photo Credit: Jenya Steanson

Exciting and ambitious, Matthew Harvey’s NOW OR NEVER captures the heart and stirs the soul, making you wish this innovative production was on for more than just one night

5 out of 5 stars

Over the past six months, the Barn Theatre in Cirencester has certainly pulled it out of the bag when it comes to digital productions. From WHAT A CARVE UP! to the more recent THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, the team has helped to keep theatre alive during the pandemic, with their latest production standing out as their most innovative and ambitious piece yet.

Written by associate artist Matthew Harvey, NOW OR NEVER follows seven people in their last week on Earth. As a solar flare threatens extinction, the seven characters look back at their lives, reassessing their hopes, dreams and regrets, making decisions that only a near-death experience forces you to do.

Best described as a mix between a digital concert, a musical and a British song cycle, it’s clear from the outset that NOW OR NEVER is an ambitious piece. Throughout the 40 minute run time, Creative Director Ryan Carter shoots live as one continuous non-stop shot, navigating through the narrow hallways and steep staircases of the Barn Theatre, as he moves between seven different spaces.

Even when he reaches his destination, Carter doesn’t settle on one steady shot, following the performer as they move around the space, interacting with props, costume and even, multimedia elements.

But it is the music that is truly at the heart of this production. The piece features seven songs, beautifully written by Harvey and arranged by Musical Supervisor Freddie Tapner. From the opening number, a catchy country-pop track about a man’s love for his vintage motorbike to Courtney Stapleton and Eloise Davies’ duet, whose best-laid travel plans blow up in smoke, each number captures your imagination and leaves a smile on your face.

The best numbers are those with lyrics to which we all can relate. Katie Shearman’s musical theatre inspired number stands out as a highlight with its catchy melody and witty lyrics. On the surface, it tells the story of a woman justifying to herself – and us – about getting a dog, but beneath the surface is a deep-rooted pain about the end of a long-term relationship.

Irvine Iqbal’s simple yet sweet ballad is memorable as he reads aloud a letter to a past loved one, reminiscing about days gone by and how he regrets not telling her he loved her.

Ahmed Hamad’s performance as a man stuck in a stressful, desk job who realises there is more to life than work, is also worth the wait, the Billy Joel inspired pop piece capturing his rising vocals as he finally builds the courage to quit his job.

All of the performers are excellent here, their West End trained vocals coming together for a final ensemble piece that builds from a slow ballad into a soul-stirring number about hope in the face of catastrophe. As the credit rolls, the viewer is left with a sense of hope and a wish that this innovative production was on for more than one night!

Believe me, if the pandemic is getting you down, NOW OR NEVER is the only tonic you need.

NOW OR NEVER is available to stream LIVE for one night only on 1 April 2021.