Throughout my many years of seeing performances at the Drama Barn, the most striking quality that I have found of the seemingly small space is that it never appears the same way twice. Its Room of Requirement-like character is profound testament to the throngs of casts and crews that have staged shows in the Barn, transporting audiences to a multiplicity of places in mere seconds. This is especially effective and true in Sam Thorpe-Spinks’ play, The Leader – an original reinterpretation of Gillian Freeman’s 1965 book of the same name.
The tense opening sees John Pearman; a part-time IT consultant (played by Sam Went), methodically whittle through his morning routine in his bedroom as his mother (Zoe Biles) nervously waits for him. The intensifying apprehension in the silence is palpable, as the audience also wait for the stretched silence to be broken.
Upon meeting a fellow Nazi fanatic, the charmingly austere Ms Mitford (Venetia Cook), Pearman is incited into action. The transformation from stuttering mess to dangerously powerful figurehead of a growing movement is paced well and skilfully portrayed by Went. Zealously delivered, Pearman’s nationalist speeches were conveyed with composed aplomb, rousing the audience into applause.
While categorically not a comedy, there are moments of dark humour lent by the droll brashness of Drew, Laila and Aaron (respectively played by Jake Botterell, Summaya Mughal and Hugh Cornish). Combined with the unsettling murkiness of Jessop (Sam Hill), the mounting insecurities of Tom (Tiernan Cotter) and the humorously fluctuating morals of Mr Patterson (Declan Dillane), the amalgamation of personas has ensured that The Leader is well cast throughout.
In The Leader, Thorpe-Spinks has accurately modernised the characters and their ideologies for a setting of today. Through fashioning multi-faceted characters that are as believable as they are familiar, Sam Thorpe-Spinks has created a play that is justly unique and emotively honest.