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Review: Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki in David Hare's The Red Barn, National Theatre

Theredbarn_2578x1128_0Our first glimpses of the principal cast in The Red Barn is through square or oblong framing which shrink or widen to reveal more or less in a style that is reminiscent of the opening credits of a 60s or 70s TV series or film.

It is 1969 Connecticut, a snow storm is raging and two couples on their way home from a party - Ingrid and Donald (Hope Davis and Mark Strong) and Mona and Ray (Elizabeth Debicki and Nigel Whitmey) - have had to abandon their car and head on foot in the blizzard to Ingrid and Donald's home. Not all of them make it there safely.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the party and the events following the storm. There is a tension from the outset and not just because of the dangers of the storm. David Hare's script tells you only so much, everything else is in the body language and the pauses. This is a play that is brimming with pregnant pauses. It is a master class of understated performance. During the pitch darkness of scene changes there are phone calls, stripped of visual clues it becomes all about the tone and delivery.

Elizabeth Debicki is beautiful, elegant and alluring as the actress turned wife of the big shot PR exec. Hope Davis' Ingrid is infinitely nice, respected in the neighbourhood, steady and stable and yet you get the impression that she is a women never to be underestimated.

Mark Strong is once again mesmerising to watch. Donald is a lawyer who has settled on the dependable Ingrid and a quiet country life rather than the bright lights of Manhattan. Over the course of the play he seems to get younger and then older before your eyes.

This is a quietly powerful, tense and intriguing play about truth and lies - not just what we tell others but what we tell ourselves. It is also about what we do to get through life.

The staging is as beautiful and elegant as Elizabeth Debicki and I was gripped from start to finish. It's one hour and 50 minutes without an interval and I'm giving it five stars.

Catch it at the National Theatre until Jan 17 - most dates are sold out but Friday Rush tickets are available.

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