Going The Distance

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan, digital production Going The Distance, directed by Felicity Montagu is a touching and often hilarious look at the plight of local theatres during the pandemic.

March 2020 saw theatres across the UK forced to close their doors, with no real promise of reopening in sight, the fight for survival well and truly began.

Going The Distance introduces us the players of Matchborough Community Theatre, desperate to survive and on an incredibly limited budget a decision is made to create their very own version of the Wizard of Oz; offering opportunities for local residents to get involved and come together to create something magical, which will in turn secure the future of the much-loved theatre.

Well, that’s the theory, in practice complex relationships, mismatched ideas and a wannabe diva who is more Hollyoaks than Hollywood provide a recipe for a hilariously bumpy ride. Add to this a genuine warmth and poignancy as the impact of the pandemic is seen through various character’s eyes and this heart-warming piece begins to feel much deeper than at first you may have anticipated.

Head of Marketing Rae is portrayed brilliantly by Sarah Hadland, her eye-rolling frustration at the less tech savvy members of the team clear for all to see. Penny Ryder delivers a touching performance as Maggie, demonstrating perfectly how a theatre is much more than just bricks and mortar. Her monologue towards the end of the piece beautifully reminding us of the importance of local theatres not just as performance spaces but as a place at the very heart of the community; this opportunity for community creativity is wonderfully displayed via Gail’s journey, delivered perfectly by Emma McDonald, complimented beautifully by Merch Husey’s sensitive Kem.

Bickering former couple Frank and Vic, (Matthew Kelly and Shobna Gulati) add a familiar reality to the piece while Nicole Evans as Billie is an all too recognisable character for anyone who has ever been involved in a community project, brilliantly written, and fantastically delivered.

Going The Distance is a cleverly crafted reflection on the past 18 months and the far-reaching effects of the pandemic. It’s wittily told while importantly the laughs don’t detract from its thought-provoking poignancy. At around 75 mins straight through Going the Distance is a real love letter to local theatres and the individual characters who make them what they are, a place for all to feel entertained, involved and uplifted.

You can watch Going the Distance online from Monday 4th October until Sunday 17th October, tickets available here.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Created by the same team behind the recent reimagining of Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! which quickly became a standout piece of 2020, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an impressive retelling of Oscar Wilde’s famously tragic tale.

In this modern take, gone is the classic portrait in favour of the ultimate smartphone filter, wholly irresistible to wannabee influencer, Dorian Gray; whose obsession with social media adoration becomes his all-consuming downfall.

Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett’s decision to reimagine Gray as a snapchatting, insta-loving, subscriber-hungry, Youtuber is inspired, tapping into a digital world so many of us spend far more time transfixed by than we would care to admit. The guarantee of popularity, opportunity, and a seemingly endless stream of likes is just too much to resist.

Interviewer Stephen Fry attempts to piece together how Gray’s untimely demise came about via detailed Zoom interviews paired with atmospheric staged flashbacks, while Lady Narborough (Joanna Lumley) largely navigates us through the story.

In addition to Fry and Lumley the all-star cast of Alfred Enoch, Emma McDonald, Russell Tovey and Fionn Whitehead add depth and quality to this haunting production.

The dark side of social media becomes a strong thread as the stark reality of internet trolling and cancel culture claims the life of Sibyl Vane, while the pandemic is cleverly weaved through the narrative as Gray’s life behind his screen begins to spiral so does his need to hide his face from the real world via a mask, an attempt to hide the physical manifestations of his ugly actions.

Gray’s declining mental health dangerously threatening to leak through his picture-perfect profile. Gray’s transition from fresh-faced blogger to anxiety ridden sunken-eyed social media monster is both exceptional and utterly terrifying.

Inspired and chillingly brilliant this production captivates entirely.

You can stream The Picture of Dorian Gray until 31 March tickets available via Barn Digital | Visit The Barn Theatre Today in Cirencester