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  Barry & Joan The Smell Of The Greasepaint, The Roar Of The Crowd
Year: 2022
Director: Audrey Rumsby
Stars: Barry Grantham, Joan Grantham, various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Barry and Joan met in 1948, and more or less have been together ever since. Now in their twilight years, they refuse to slow down and are much sought after as teachers of dance and acting, with a speciality in the commedia dell'arte, an art of theatrical comedy that has lasted since the sixteenth century in Italy. Reasoning that all sorts of modern entertainments stem from this form, from sitcom to cartoons and more, Barry believes in keeping it alive as an artform, and watching him with his students you can well believe his enthusiasm is infectious. Meanwhile Joan is his accompanist on the piano, a woman with a genuine ear for music that has seen her play for the great and good, just as the couple have acted in shows for decades...

The impression you get from director/performer Audrey Rumsby's somewhat hyperactive documentary is of someone rushing to capture living history before it is too late, as its subjects were no Spring chickens and their experiences and knowledge were demonstrated to be extremely precious if you had any interest at all in the theatre. And not only the theatre, of performing of any kind, it's a bit of a cliché that commedia dell'arte is relegated to drama schools now and doesn't really get much of a workout in the real world of comedy and acting, but this film illustrates that is just not true and the archetypes and lessons it can teach the profession, indeed, the profession has them in its blood, are just as valuable now as they ever were when they began.

Although the pace of the piece never lets up, there's plenty of room for reflection: on the long lives of Barry and Joan, and of the longer life of the likes of vaudeville and so-called eccentric dance. We see plenty of publicity stills of the pair in full makeup and costume, frozen at various years in terpsichorean poses with the dates they were in these shows dutifully printed at the side, and they do help to set this in a context the endless rehearsal footage might not have done alone. Barry also had a few film appearances, and we see him highlighted as a support dancer in The Red Shoes or The Tales of Hoffman from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger at the height of their powers - he was also in the movie of Oh! What a Lovely War, though they apparently found him more difficult to track down in that one.

Joan, meanwhile, was something of a child prodigy on the piano, able to conjure up just about any tune she knew on the ivories and still with that ability now, a tiny, beaming older lady who verbally spars with her husband. We also saw clips from landmark films where commedia dell'arte was used, from Les Enfants du Paradis to Singin' in the Rain, and Joan reminisces as the real film fan about Dan Dailey in Give My Regards to Broadway, a story that spoke to her for understandable reasons. If it won't instil a drive to join your local amateur theatre group (though, then again...) there are plenty of the couple's students of all ages on hand to praise them to the heavens and you can perceive Barry and Joan as a duo of a special type of person who gets people inspired, it’s just that their inspiration is based around acting, theatre and dance. Thankfully, Rumsby did not stage this like a reality TV show, it was a very sincere combination of wanting to educate the audience on what Barry and Joan were teaching, and fill in a basic history lesson of the background, along with some biography for colour, and if it was a little exhausting, it did what it set out to do.

[Discover one Britain's best kept theatrical secrets as documentary feature film Barry & Joan is released in cinemas this spring on 6th May 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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