Review: We Started to Sing, Arcola Theatre

The Arcola Theatre reopens with the gentle charms of Barney Norris’ We Started to Sing, starring the excellent Barbara Flynn and Robin Soans 

I wish there could be a day where families came together and just said it all to each other. Because then everyone would know it all, and there’d be nothing left to hurt anyone

Barney Norris’ affiliation with the Arcola Theatre has reaped real success in plays like Visitors and Eventide, so it feels a natural fit that it should continue with We Started to Sing, the production chosen to reopen the Arcola’s main space. And it is very much a gentle re-entry for the Dalston theatre, one which I found agreeably charming. 

Written and directed by Norris, the play is surprisingly personal, telling the story of 30 years of Norris’ own family life, the main characters being his own parents and grandparents. And as we follow relationships that break and new ones that grow, connections that ebb and flow through changing emotion and distance, a tender portrait is drawn.

The connective tissue used here is music, live singing powerfully evoking atmosphere. And the home video footage further ups the cosiness, perhaps just a little too far in the final analysis, tipping the production into ever more sepia tones. It wouldn’t be quite so noticeable were the dramatic swells not already so gentle already.

The strength of the production comes from the commitment of the performances. Barbara Flynn and Robin Soans as the older generation are perfect, embodying the different ways the ageing process can take hold. And Naomi Petersen is moving, both as the singer but also as the ex-daughter-in-law who remains part of the enduring family ties.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Alex Brenner
We Started to Sing is booking at the Arcola Theatre until 18th June

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