Barn Dance

Having famous playwright Mike Bartlett on hand to write this nostalgic wonder of a play Barn Dance was a gift for The Theatre Chipping Norton which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a plethora of unique shows.

And the premiere of Barn Dance is certainly a jewel in in the crown of an impressive line-up, paired with its precursor Lark Rise READ OUR REVIEW HERE, both of which focus on a farm in Long Compton through the ages.

But while Lark Rise was pre-WW1, Barn Dance comes snapping at its heels as the threat of WW2 rumbles away against the rural backdrop.

Barn Dance

Mike Bartlett, the multi-Olivier Award winning and BAFTA nominated writer of King Charles III, Press and Doctor Foster, as well as numerous OFS Christmas specials, takes the premise and runs with it, ensuring that the local community and its people are right at the heart of his historic saga.

Spanning out across multiple generations, right up to the present day, we meet the farm’s inhabitants who are all dealing with their own pressing dilemmas, framed by the local community, family and friends.

Barn Dance

Set in-the-round, with all the theatre’s central seats removed, the ensuing space provides an incredibly atmospheric setting from where the action unfolds, the audience perched on boxes, steps and random seats, ensuring a fully immersive experience, as the cast sit and chat between and amongst you.

And so we meet brother and sister Pete (Roll Botha) and Grace (Paige Goodman) whose idyllic working life on the farm is rudely awakened by conscription. As young men all over the country enlist and volunteer, they consider ways to hide Pete away until the war is over.

Barn Dance

Nic (Ash Bowerman) wants to go to university, but the farm has fallen on hard times, and just like the generation before her, she wants to do the right thing, wrestling with the moral dilemma of her future versus her families livelihood and home, amidst much hilarity provided by her grandmother Grace (Sarah Mortimer).

Angela (Jennifer Toll) is an entirely different kettle of fish, relocating from London to enjoy a life in the countryside away from her soulless existence in the rat race.

Meeting fierce opposition from the locals who are against gentrification, while mourning the loss of their former livelihoods, Angela calmly forges on, befriending a former resident (played by Sophie Crawford) who finally comes to realise that life goes on, and that the fresh blood and money being poured into both the farm and the local community can only be a good thing.

Angela in Barn Dance

As with all Mike Bartlett plays, his insight into the issues faced by Oxfordshire’s local towns and villages, from the advent of Soho Farmhouse, to having to pay for university fees, and diversifying to survive, are acutely observed, while remaining droll and relatable.

The characters themselves are also brilliantly played by the stunning mixture of professional and community actors, drawing us in until we forget we mere bystanders, instead intrinsically engrossed in each decision and development.

Barn Dance

And as Barn Dance draws to an end, Hook Norton Brewery beer is passed around, and the all-female Morris Dancing troupe takes centre stage, the poignancy and heart-break of the story give rise to tears.

A visceral, moving, unique and inspired play that stays with you long after you leave, Barn Dance is a shining example of how community theatre can, and should, be done, and a glorious celebration of the rich tapestry of our towns and villages.

Barn Dance

So if you want to enjoy a totally immersive, original and heart-rendering saga, then snap up the few remaining tickets to see Barn Dance because it’s only running until Thursday 20 June. Oh, and bring a hanky because you might, like us, blub like a baby.

Barn Dance is at The Theatre Chipping Norton until Thursday June 20. Book here

For more information on The Theatre Chipping Norton 50th celebrations programme go to Join Chippy Theatre’s epic 50th celebrations of big names, premieres, feasts, cabaret, performance tours, community plays, immersive theatre and whodunnits!