Barrie Keeffe’s 1977 trilogy Barbarians was last seen in Britain twenty years ago, but now it’s back with a bang. Staged in the former Central St Martin’s School of Art on Charing Cross Road, where the Sex Pistols played their first gig, this Tooting Arts Club production is incredibly powerful.
The three plays, performed in different playing spaces within the upper floors of the atmospheric building, follow three unemployed youths over several years. At first, Paul (Thomas Coombes), Jan (Jake Davies) and Louis (Josh Williams) are school leavers, bored and penniless, resorting to petty crime to fill their time, but they gradually grow more and more disaffected, firstly at the FA Cup final – where they are left outside the gates of Wembley, unable to secure tickets – and then a few years later at the Notting Hill Carnival, where resentment comes to a head.
The plays explore the problems of unemployment and lack of ambition, focusing on three individuals who each seek different ways of dealing with their circumstances. The three actors are outstanding, giving completely believable performances as frustrated, disaffected young men. It’s a long evening, over three hours, yet completely worth the time – I felt emotionally exhausted when I left the building.
In the context of present day youth unemployment, the trilogy feels chillingly prescient, but even without the contemporary aspect it is a powerful experience. Highly recommended.