Despite torrential rain and biting winds, a fair crowd were huddled outside the Drama Barn last night in anticipation of its latest offering, The Librarium. The play started with probably the most unique opening scene I’ve witnessed so far at the Barn, with the weather forcing the cast to adopt their back up plan and stage the first ten minutes in the back room of the Drama Barn. Though soggy, cramped and slightly bewildered, the audience were treated to an engaging and creative performance, with the inside/outside dynamic of the first scene played up to perfection. What immediately struck me was the impression that the actors had been in character for weeks – they seemed well rounded and three dimensional from the very start. When we finally took our seats inside the Drama Barn, the set was characteristically stylish, the Barn souped up to its full potential yet again with haphazard piles of books everywhere and a hazy cloud of (herbal) cigarette smoke.
The play detailed the fragile, glorious world of the Librarium, owned by flustered book-lover and would-be poet Macbeth (Alex Wakelam). Alongside him were the siblings Huxley and Harmonica, excellently played by Harry Ward and Helen Peatfield respectively; and extravagant eccentric Philippe (Declan Dillane). The script was funny, witty and poetic, a credit to writer Joseph Cooper, and left me wishing that I could meet the characters in real life. The dialogue between the intimate cast was impressively well crafted and swept along like an unconventional whirlwind, covering the complexities of poetry, art, literature and relationships. The character Philippe particularly stood out for his half-muttered, whimsical soliloquies, giving the audience a peep into his perplexing private world. Golfo Migos played Mariabel, Macbeth’s great-niece, whose wonderfully awkward romance with Huxley was a comical pleasure to watch.
The Librarium offered an intriguing insight into the durability of the human being. The peaceful, dreamy bohemia of the characters’ little worlds was contrasted with a startling violence born out of grinding financial need, desperation and frustrated ambition. The slow deflation of the Librarium’s idyllic bubble, due to a riddle of money, ambition, and love, was subtly and brilliantly portrayed. The undercurrent of disillusion and escapism was cleverly masked by endless cups of tea, but was brought to a head in one especially moving scene where Macbeth breaks down in tears. The security of escaping to the different worlds inside books and poems is something that I think many people in the audience could empathise with.
The ups and downs of the performance kept it fresh and interesting, despite the lack of a concrete plot. A pervading sense of loss was countered with moments of farce, and likewise the mystery of how the characters know each other gave the audience plenty of food for thought. The conversations between Macbeth and Philippe were strikingly performed, creating a pair of interesting, well-developed characters in a very short space of time. The transformation of Macbeth from a childlike, bumbling being to a world-weary old man was touching. I later found the charming production blog, (http://librarium-york.tumblr.com) – a testament to all the hard work and effort poured into this performance under the skilled hand of director Tim Kelly. The Librarium was a truly unique experience, and I came away pondering just how delicate all of our situations are. Definitely worth a watch.