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Drama Barn Review: Red Snow

Red Snow, a musical written by James Ball and directed by himself and Hannah Higton, fervently sprinkled its presence all over the barn on its opening night, and illustrates, formidably so, that student written productions can find great success with the right head behind them.

Set in Stalinist Russia, Red Snow illustrates the effects of the Communist regime on a group of farmers. Put under pressure by staunch Stalin supporter Bolyen (Benedick Gibson) and his comrade Sergei (Matthew Lecznar) to meet the targets of the Five Year Plans, the community begin to crack. Vladimir (Adam Massingberd-Mundy) and Nina (Ruth Fitton), both members of the village, have their relationship tested under the strains, whilst Zmeya (Max Tyler), comedic bootleg potato seller, declares a love for Nina too. Bolyen’s wife Natasha (Laura Horton) feels the burden as an oppressed woman in Soviet Russia. When the village gets turned into a gulag the society is split resulting in large repercussions for the members.

Red Snow appeared to be a show where the acting and musical aspects of the show never really converged. There were fantastic vocal performances from the entire cast, who blended well together creating a wonderfully balanced array of voices. The music was beautifully composed and full of energy that ran through the show. Lecznar’s vocal performance however included his voice cracking and at one moment found himself stumbling over the words to a song.

There were some thrilling acting displays and on this point, Lecznar was certainly confident, moving through the emotions of his character perfectly, from obedience to illicit passion. Other members of the cast showed glimpses of acting splendour that became monotonous very quickly. Gibson’s disabled war veteran was menacing, vindictive and intense, but the acting was often robotic and never appeared to change gear. Likewise, Massingberd-Mundy, despite a strong vocal display, followed it up with some lacklustre acting that saw him either shouting in rage or crying in despair.

Much of the flatness in character comes from the writing. Whilst the play flowed at a very quick pace and was always moving forward, some characters were not given room to develop. The relationship between Vladimir and Nina was difficult to follow and identify with because it never had the space to explain itself and grow.

Despite this, Laura Horton was able to reconcile acting and singing to offer the whole musical package. Nowhere does she show the raunchy yet tenacious vitality of her character than in the song ‘Drink Comrades’. Slickly choreographed and poignantly sung, this was a fantastic display of Horton’s talent. To follow this up with a tender yet infuriated lament about her position as a woman in Soviet Russia, displayed her true versatility.

As the snow fell from the roof of the Barn, it settled on a truly wonderful piece of theatre that is Red Snow, which, for its shortcomings, more than makes up for it with some wonderful music, stellar voices and good moments of acting that will truly leave you entertained.

(Originally published on

Spider-Man Has Met His Match: the Theatre Critics

Marvel’s slinging superhero swung himself on to the big stage this week as Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark opened on Broadway. Costing $70m (£43m), the show certainly had the budget to be a spectacular. However, critics slung harsh words towards the musical that not even Spider-Man could fend off.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times branded the show a “bore”. The show went “from jaw-dropping badness to mere mediocrity” continues Brantley.

The musical was set to open six times since last November, but an array of technical and financial issues halted its progress.

Critics have been quick to pounce upon the budget of the show. Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News said, “The show reportedly cost $65 million and that’s clearly gone into mechanics, hydraulics and aerial rigging. It seems only 10 cents has gone into the confusing story and humorless dialogue.”

Peter Marks claimed the show was “a definite upgrade [from the preview shows]” but still “a distance from good”.

One would think that music by Bono and The Edge from rock superstars U2 would inject some much needed energy into the musical, however critics did not let up on their words of fury. Thom Geier wrote that the “score is a mostly lackluster collection of forgettable tunes that play like U2 B-sides”, hardly the encouragement needed for a new musical.

In attendance on the opening night were a plethora of stars including platinum selling artist Jay-Z, former President Bill Clinton, musical veteran Lord Lloyd Webber, actors Matt Damon, Liam Neeson and Steve Martin and former tennis star John McEnroe.

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark has been selling out the Foxwoods Theatre, a 1,928 seat venue and in spite of the heavy handed criticism, it would certainly be an interesting musical to see performed.