Barbarians, written by Barrie Keeffe in 1977, is a trilogy of plays charting the lives of three young Lewisham lads.
Paul (Thomas Coombes) is a shaven-headed chancer with anger issues. Jan (Jamie Crew) is marginally more optimistic and wants to make his life better but doesn’t quite seem to have the required get-up-and-go. Louis (Tyler Fayose) is intelligent and willing to apply himself, but still struggling to find a break.
The first play, Killing Time, revolves around the lads’ attempt to steal a car for Paul’s cousin. It is the lightest in tone of the three plays with some genuinely funny lines, and sets the foundations well for each of the lads’ characters.
The second play, Abide With Me, sees the lads attempting to get in to Wembley to watch the 1976 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton. Jan’s Uncle Harold has promised them tickets, but fails to deliver. The lads’ relationships begin to crack; Paul becomes increasingly angry and unstable, Jan realises there might be an alternative to just following Man U around the country and Louis decides that certain friendships might not fit into his life plan.
The third play, In the City, is set during the Notting Hill Carnival the following year and sees the lads reunited. Louis has finally put his year of refrigeration training to good use, Jan is on the eve of an army tour to Northern Ireland… and Paul has arranged for them to meet two "spade bints" (black girls) to give him a good send-off. The reunion rapidly deteriorates into a quite brutally violent scene with serious consequences.
The three young actors are very strong, grasping the dialogue by the throat and creating rounded characters. The energy shown by Coombes as Paul is exceptional, in particular. The costumes, whilst perhaps a little clichéd, evoke the 70s well, and the play makes excellent use of the performance space (a prefab-type building which formerly housed a Youth Enterprise Scheme), including some highly imaginative scene-change techniques.
This first London staging of Barbarians since the early 1990s comes at a time that has many parallels with the late 70s, including rising unemployment and disengaged youth. That alone would be a reason to give it a visit, but the strong script and very talented young cast make it well worth the trip south on the Northern Line.