Music Hall Monster: The Insatiable Mr Fred Barnes review at Wilton’s Music Hall, London – ‘richly charismatic’
The story of Fred Barnes is a theatrical tragedy just gagging to be brought to life on stage.
In his heyday in 1911, Birmingham born Barnes was the darling of the music halls. A top-of-the-bill act, he was earning a small fortune at the height of his career but his notorious private life became a matter of public scandal. Barnes was openly gay, with a penchant for servicemen that was so prevalent, a judge banned him from attending the Royal Tournament as he was considered a menace to His Majesty’s fighting forces. An addiction to alcohol brought ill health and ruin and Barnes ended his days singing for tips in a Southend pub.
Music Hall Monster is Christopher Green’s deconstruction of Barnes’ eventful career. The first part sees Green as Barnes, staggering across the stage feigning a cheery persona and warbling Give Me A Million Beautiful Girls.
Unable to focus, he quits the stage and during an early interval, Barnes is in the bar chatting up men and drinking heavily. The second half sees Barnes return to the stage, but within minutes Green breaks character and begins to dissect Barnes’ cycle of depression and addiction and questions whether it’s possible for the audience to heal a broken performer.
Initially the non-linear narrative is confusing and the promenade interval awkward but ultimately Green mines the past to find answers for the present.
Green is a richly charismatic performer and what could have developed into a fairly routine biopic in fact evolves as an enriching piece of cabaret.