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Still Life with Onions review (Barons Court Theatre)

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The aftermath of VE Day is the theme at Barons Court Theatre this week, with Rob Burbidge’s new play Still Life with Onions. Centred on three characters who are adjusting to life after the conflict, the play takes place in shared accommodation from 1945 – 1947. It focuses on the relationships between some of the residents, as they navigate post-war life in Britain. Playing at The Curtains Up Pub from 12th to 16th March, this historical-themed piece of theatre aims to provide an insight into a difficult period of national recovery.

Still Life With Onions leaflet at Barons Court Theatre, London

Initial thoughts

There is lots to like about the production, specifically the careful presentation of complex themes within the 70 minute runtime. Covering grief, prejudice and relationships against the backdrop of post-war Britain, the script has potential in its sensitive recreation of the time period. Unfortunately it is a slow burner, with the depth of the material left for the last 20 minutes and the first half feeling a little empty. The work could benefit from faster pacing and the prioritisation of character development.

Still Life With Onions set at Barons Court Theatre, London

Recreation of the 1940s

Sofia Palma’s set and costume design help to visualise the 1940s theme, from Joanna’s dress (Olivia Steele) to David’s military uniform (Kieran Dobson). There are various props which also add to the ambiance, helping to make the theatrical space feel very far from present day London. It is a strength of the intimate production, complimenting the historical writing.  

Still Life With Onions rehearsal photo, Barons Court Theatre
© Barons Court Theatre

Sound design

Crackling wireless broadcasts are used to set the scene and even though they are a helpful prompt in driving the narrative, it is not enough in conveying the fact that time has passed. Perhaps an additional visual cue would aid the progression of the script visually, as limited set changes and fast transitions make it difficult to believe in the time jumps.

In the more emotive moments towards the end, a sequence of storm-like sounds are used to amplify tension and whilst it helps audiences to appreciate the freak weather of the time, the sound is slightly too loud and feels like it competes with the dialogue. A softer approach to the effects would reduce the chance of distraction and facilitate audience attention towards the exchanges between Sue (Naomi Bowman) and Behrmann (Christopher Kouros).

Still Life With Onions rehearsal photo, Barons Court Theatre
© Barons Court Theatre

Cast performances

Bowman is absolutely fantastic as Sue. In terms of character development, Sue goes on a tremendous journey, starting out as a straight-talking neighbour and ending up as Joanna’s confidante. A passionate socialist, Sue is initially wary of their German refugee neighbour, but as the narrative progresses and her tough exterior peels back, there is so much more to the character underneath.

The character of Behrmann is also deeply endearing, initially perceived as an enemy. Over the course of the show it is revealed that he escaped a changing Germany in the 1930s and was previously misunderstood by Sue. Brilliantly played by Kouros, an emotional and transparent exchange between Sue and Behrmann was a highlight of the show for me.

Still Life With Onions rehearsal photo, Barons Court Theatre
© Barons Court Theatre

The future of Still Life with Onions

Still Life with Onions plays at Barons Court until Saturday, covering some important topics. With development, it could be a really thoughtful period piece, but the structure needs reshaping to maintain the same level of emotional impact throughout. Last minute tickets can be purchased via the theatre’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Still Life with Onions was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.



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