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As an extinction-level-event approaches, and the world is given mere days to live, Now Or Never follows seven characters who, rather than clinging to their despair, follow their dreams to make the most of their final days, in this uplifting song cycle.
Other than the context which ties them all together, each song is entirely isolated in its own narrative; one man looks to finally finish fixing up an old bike and just drive down the highway, whilst another finally quits his job to use what time he has left to pursue his destiny. Most of the characters live with regrets, but they use this last chance as an opportunity to put that behind them and move forward. The musical number ‘I’m Getting a Dog’ feels joyously comical, but reveals a sharp pang of heartache. To us, these choices might not be the end-of-the-world-bucket-lists that we would make, but in the world of the characters they are believably the most important things for them to do.
Filmed in one continuous take, the show ambitiously navigates most of the Barn Theatre, from the bar to the auditorium, the dressing rooms to the main stage. Each location is dressed in a minimal but telling way, clearly defining one from the next in very authentic ways, and lending to the idea that we are dipping into the lives of different people across the world. Director of Photography, Ben Collins, creates an incredibly fluid camera journey; not simply providing static shots of each room, but moving with carefully rehearsed choreography. Collins frames the scenes perfectly and even matches the music, with steady pans and dramatic sweeps in time with the crescendos.
Although not singing in the production, Olivier winner Janie Dee frames the show as a news anchor in both prologue and epilogue, as well as featuring on a continuous media loop on screens throughout the theatre. The ensemble also includes Eloise Davies, Ahmed Hamad, Irvine Iqbal, Lucy St Louis, Katie Shearman, Courtney Stapleton, as well as composer Matthew Harvey. Each a first-class performer, they lend amazing vocal and emotional strength to their songs – though I do feel that some of the performances are a bit big for the smaller rooms (as well a tight camera shot), but it does keep it theatrical.
Harvey’s score is very accomplished, if a little unmemorable at times. He creates very vivid and layered characters with varied melodies that give them their own individuality whilst seeming connected to the whole. Without a doubt there are also some amazing songs in this show, most notably ‘We’ll Get as Far as We Get’ and the rousing finale ‘Whatever Happens Next’ (reminiscent of the hopefulness of Jonathan Larson’s Rent finale) which strikes home the shows message as the world is descending into riots.
Now Or Never may have taken the situation of this pandemic and dressed it up as something else, but the intensity of the situation is the same with so many of us living so close to the idea of death. As the final character weighs up leaving his job, he sings the line “What if it’s not really ending? What if it’s just about to start?” – a message which artists have taken onboard so much over this year. The arts has been hit harder than most industries and, like their characters in this play, our performers are using their craft to inspire hope in dark times.
Now Or Never is now available to stream online. For more information and to book, visit Barn Theatre’s website.