The volume of ‘Barbarians’ rarely drops below a shout. But Barrie Keeffe’s searing late-’70s depiction of a Britain that chews up its young and spits them out into a brutalising wasteland of broken promises and joblessness works best at high volume.
Three linked plays about three lads explore with bruising directness the destructive tribalism of a society that has become cut off from itself. We watch as friends Jan, Paul and Louis try to steal a car, try desperately to get into the stadium to watch their beloved Manchester United in the FA Cup Final and ultimately come to blows at Notting Hill Carnival.
Director Bill Buckhurst steps up to the scabrous wit of the script, drawing blistering performances from his three-strong cast. Together they bring a feverish energy to a stage space which, ironically, was once the site of a Youth Enterprise Scheme.
Thomas Coombes mesmerises as the increasingly volatile Paul, kicking and head-butting the set’s bleak, graffiti-scrawled walls with the frustration of someone as keen to break out as he is to break in.
What goes around comes around. As we risk losing another generation to long-term unemployment, this adrenalin-pumping revival represents fringe theatre at its most vital and alive. The hard questions it asks about who we are to each other couldn’t be timelier.
First published by Time Out