Six months ago we hadn’t even heard of The Barn Theatre in Cirencester, let alone set foot inside it. Today we still haven’t set foot inside it but it is the absolute front-runner for our “theatre of the year” award – We don’t even do annual awards but we are considering introducing them just so we can bestow this honour upon the Barn! Throughout lockdown it has been the most industrious and exciting venue, putting out content for all ages and providing work for so many creatives and performers (including recent graduates). It was therefore no surprise to see The Barn announce an open air theatre festival soon after the government confirmed that shows could resume outdoors.
BarnFest was held within the grounds of Ingleside House adjacent to the theatre and brought the award-winning theatre outdoors with entertaining productions catered towards the whole family ranging from children’s entertainment to re-imagined Shakespeare. Clearly we were going to be making a road-trip to Cirencester. The only questions remaining were when could we go and how many shows could we fit in while we were there?
We were spoilt for choice on the children’s theatre front, with outdoor theatre company Illyria doing three different shows over the course of the festival. Having already seen a couple of productions of The Wind in the Willows this year, we narrowed it down to either The Emperor’s New Clothes or The Adventures of Dr Dolittle. The latter won when it turned out that it overlapped with Kander & Ebb revue The World Goes ‘Round. Initially our plan was just to stay over for one night and see both shows in one day but this was scuppered when we got a phone call telling us the start time of The World goes ‘Round had been changed, making it too late to travel home afterwards. So obviously the only thing for it was to stay an extra night and book Scoot Theatre Company’s family friendly production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the next day.
After a night in a bell tent (which was Mummy’s concession to camping but Mrs Mummy says definitely didn’t count) we headed to Cirencester for our two show day. It was already apparent from the pre-show email information that The Barn were taking Covid security very seriously and our experience on arrival was no different. From staggered arrival times and temperature checks to socially distanced seating pods, it all felt incredibly safe and very well thought through. The munchkins (and Mummy!) were also very impressed with the merchandise stand, which not only had facemasks and BarnFest t-shirts but also did said t-shirts in a wide array of sizes including female fits!
Masks on and temperatures taken, we settled ourselves onto our cosy floor pod, complete with cushions and blankets. Having decided that 10am was probably a bit too early for a prosecco (especially at a family show!) we popped some Pringles instead to celebrate our inaugural trip to The Barn. And then it was time to talk to the animals with The Adventures of Dr Dolittle. Illyria Theatre’s production is a fabulous family show, performed by a talented trio who between them play an impressive array of characters and operate a vast collection of puppets. It’s great fun for the whole family and features some seriously catchy tunes that you are sure to be singing for hours afterwards. It’s also impossible to leave this show without wanting cake!
We did indeed acquire cake afterwards, to fuel ourselves ahead of our second show of the day. And after a second set of temperature checks, we were back at The Barn for The World Goes ‘Round where the munchkins were the youngest audience members by a considerable margin. This prompted a quick word from the front of house team, who were slightly concerned that the official age rating of 6+ didn’t take into account the innuendo in ‘Arthur in the Afternoon‘ but we were pretty convinced that it would go over the munchkins’ heads. So for the second time that day we settled down under our cosy blankets (but this time with prosecco instead of Pringles!)
The World Goes ‘Round was an absolute treat, featuring a range of popular and lesser known songs by Kander & Ebb. We loved discovering new numbers (with ‘Coffee (in a Cardboard Cup’ now a firm favourite) as well as revisiting more familiar tunes including Rosalind Ford’s rendition of ‘Coloured Lights’ from The Rink and a fantastically different arrangement of ‘Cabaret’ sung by the whole company (although Mummy did have to explain to Quaver what ‘corpse’ meant mid-song). The munchkins were enthralled by it all but especially enjoyed the upbeat numbers. Quaver was dancing away very enthusiastically while Jenny Fitzpatrick belted out ‘All That Jazz’ and was incredibly impressed by the multitasking of Musical Director Nick Barstow (who is, quite frankly, disgustingly talented)! It was an awesome evening of musical theatre which absolutely encapsulated the spirit of the opening line of ‘Cabaret’ – We’re very glad that we made the decision to get out of the house and come hear the music play in Cirencester!
After a night at Cirencester Premier Inn (which was less exciting than the bell tent) we headed back to The Barn for our final visit. Mrs Mummy hadn’t been entirely sure about seeing a Shakespeare play on the grounds that they don’t involve singing and she wasn’t convinced that she would know what was going on. She proved to be wrong on two counts (even though Mummy maintains that nobody actually ever really knows what’s going on in A Midsummer Night’s Dream!) Even before it began properly, the cast of actor-musicians got the crowd going with a singalong, including a version of ‘Sweet Caroline’ with the words hilariously re-worked for social distancing. Then, after a suitably Shakesperean explanation of the fact that the cast consisted of five actors from only three households (meaning some may touch while others ‘not so much’) it was time for the main event.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first production from new theatre company Scoot Theatre (formed by Artistic Director Max Hutchinson) and had a cricket theme due to the tour largely taking place in cricket grounds.This was a really entertaining production which was accessible for all ages and, rather than just working around Covid constraints, worked them in to heighten the midsummer madness. The small cast meant plenty of doubling up on roles, further adding to the confusion, while the addition of the cricket theme made for much amusement. All five cast members (Aaron Sidwell, Sally Cheng, Claire-Marie Hall, Tricia Adele-Turner and Joseph Prowen) were hilarious and worked brilliantly as an ensemble, making it impossible to single out any of them for individual praise. Quaver went proper fan girl on them at the end and insisted on hanging around outside the theatre to compliment them all on their acting (and berate them for not selling badges, unlike Illyria)!
Our trio of shows done and dusted, there was just time for a trip to Teatro (the restaurant next to The Barn Theatre) before we headed home. With the sun blazing, we managed to get ourselves a table outside and had a lovely meal to round off an excellent couple of days in Cirencester. Mrs Mummy was also very proud of her Instagram-worthy dessert photography so here it is in all its chocolatey glory:
We had an awesome time at BarnFest and were so impressed with how The Barn Theatre managed to mount an entire festival of outdoor theatre so swiftly and safely. It’s also no surprise to us that they have now also managed to get audiences back indoors and we hope that we will be able to return to Cirencester for a visit soon. And if there’s a BarnFest 2021, you can bet we’ll be back!