Barnes’ People review – Original Online ★★★★☆

Returning to Original Online, Barnes’ People is a collection of four monologues written by Peter Barnes for BBC Radio for the Barnes’ People and More Barnes’ People series. Starring Adrian Scarborough, Jemma Redgrave, Jon Culshaw and Matthew Kelly (in that order), the production was filmed on stage at the Theatre Royal Windsor in 2021 during lockdown restrictions.

The collection leads with the perhaps the most notable. A True Born Englishman sees Adrian Scarborough as Leslie, a footman at Buckingham Palace for thirty years. Though written for the radio series, the BBC pulled it during production, seemingly ‘banned’ – though one producer told Barnes “we’re not banning [it], we’re just not doing it.” It’s the best of the bunch, wryly delivered by Scarborough in a sensational performance, capturing the contradictions of Leslie, who has learned not to think but has plenty of thoughts about those around him who question the monarchy and its way of life.

Less Redgrave’s turn as Dr Rosa Hamilton in Rosa, a woman who is tired of battling the system while the real work isn’t getting done. Paperwork is problematic for Rosa, and we see too much of it too as she spends the lengthy opening reading from reports. Once she’s done, she launches into a diatribe about the challenges and system failures in health and social care – but it all comes across as one-note preaching in Redgrave’s delivery. In one section we see her eyes darting from side to side as if reading an autocue, taking us out of the action. Dr Rosa Hamilton is tired and the whole monologue is, well, a little tiring.

Billy & Me, directed by Charlotte Peters (the only monologue not directed by Phillip Franks) sees a return to form with a wonderfully bizarre monologue – if that is an entirely accurate description – from Jon Culshaw, who plays ventriloquist Michael Jennings, seemingly experiencing some form of mental health episode, finds himself engaging in a group conversation with his wooden puppets. It manages to be zany, funny, heartful and tender all at once.

Round it off is Losing Myself, with Matthew Kelly as Adams, a man contemplating death (and life) holding his regular conversation with Maurice, a dead resident at Adams’ local graveyard, which is due to make way for a developer’s plans. It’s a good performance from Kelly but the character lacks redeeming qualities, so it starts to wear by the end – we don’t really care for the character and welcome his departure, despite Kelly’s turn.

Away from the performances, there’s something amiss with the approach to filming the monologues. The green screen is poorly done with a glow around Scarborough and Kelly’s outlines. Given the approach of repeatedly showing shots of the empty Theatre Royal Windsor within the action, you wonder why the backdrop of the stage wouldn’t have been a better option.

Individual ratings:

A True Born Englishman ★★★★★
Rosa ★★★☆☆
Billy & Me ★★★★☆
Losing Myself ★★★☆☆

Barnes’ People is available to stream online at Original Online