The Red Barn, National Theatre: ‘There’s a better vehicle for Mark Strong’s remarkable talents’

Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki in The Red Barn. Picture: Alistair Muir

Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki in The Red Barn. Picture: Alistair Muir - Credit: Archant

Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki star in new thriller by Hampstead playwright David Hare that offers style over substance

Elizabeth Debicki in The Red Barn. Picture: Alistair Muir

Elizabeth Debicki in The Red Barn. Picture: Alistair Muir - Credit: Archant

What pushes a decent man to commit terrible acts? That’s the project of David Hare’s psychological thriller, based on one of Georges Simenon’s many novels.

Set in Manhattan and rural Conneticut at the fag end of the 60s, four middle-class suburbanites returning home from a boozy Mad Men-style party struggle through a snowstorm and one gets lost.

This act of God plus an act of will (coveting his dead friend’s wife) adds up to the trigger for buttoned up lawyer Donald Dodd to fall apart.

Married to the dauntingly omniscient and serene, Ingrid, (Hope Davis) Mark Strong’s decidedly beta Donald oozes repression and later murderous frustration.


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Nixon’s in the White House, the swinging sixties have swung, but unlike playboy college pal Ray, conservative Don has missed the sexual revolution.

Realising he’s lived his whole life ‘with the handbrake on’ he embarks on an affair with Elizabeth Debicki’s glacial Mona.

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Despite Tom Gibbons’ atmospheric, portenteous score and Hare’s masterfully controlled revelations, the prodigiously prolific Simenon was never much for a plot.

With little tension or jeopardy the thrill of this thriller lies in what he called ‘looking through the keyhole’ at the instincts of others.

This is emphasised by Robert Icke’s cinematic staging noirishly framing the action with black shutters to close in on scenes.

But these characters are so clenched and shallow it feels more like examining frozen specimens under a microscope.

While there’s much to enjoy in Icke’s stylish, visual staging, Hare’s insight and turn of phrase, and a trio of watchable performances, The Red Barn leaves your heart cold, pulse steady, and head clear.

You can’t help feeling there could have been a better vechicle for Strong’s remarkable talents.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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