Gloriana! : Ben and Imo

Ben and Imo is written by Mark Ravenhill, it was originally written for the radio but has been adapted for the stage and opens in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Swan Theatre. It is a two hander, about the relationship between...

Gloriana! : Ben and Imo

Review: Ben and Imo

Ben and Imo is written by Mark Ravenhill, it was originally written for the radio but has been adapted for the stage and opens in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Swan Theatre. It is a two hander, about the relationship between Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst as they work on Gloriana, an opera commissioned to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Although this is the backdrop and set-up for the following production, it is about much more than just the opera. It is about the relationship, the role of gender in the 1950s, sexuality, arts funding and so much more.

Upon reading up on the plot I wasn’t originally taken with the sound of the production, but upon watching it my interest was piqued. Although, I remain having little interest in the opera Gloriana, the real figures and the themes that Ravenhill created really took my interest. It is really the definition of pure theatre, two actors working their socks off for around two hours. I saw the production during previews, so I am sure some changes will occur before the final version on press night, however, if it remains as incredible, it is sure to do well.

Ben is played by Samuel Barnett and is this wonderful genius lacking full emotional awareness and in fact at times does act like a bratty spoilt child. However, Barnett portrays him in such away that you do find him endearing, and respect Imo even more for her continued passion with the project. Imo is portrayed by Victoria Yates. This came at particular interest to me as she plays Bunty in the Fantastic Beasts series. Yates was equally as incredible as Barnett and brought to life a strong woman with a positive and free-spirited view of the world. In every way the two characters were in contrast to each other, but that only deepened their connection framed of their love of music.

It is directed by Erica Whyman and designed by Soutra Gilmour. The stage was incredibly simple with a cyclorama at the back, a piano in the centre which sat on a revolve, and various pieces of furniture they moved around as the scenes changed. This really made the focus of the stage the beautiful piano in which they played. Sat upon the piano, amongst the variety of props they used was a model of the house, we assume they are in. It was a very beautiful addition, although, despite discussions with others, we were unable to find true meaning to. I would have liked this to be incorporated into the piece more, and to be used and manipulated by the actors and the lighting.

This production had it all, from dancing, to singing to piano playing to world-class acting, yet it felt incredibly natural, simple, and beautiful. Everything was understated and used when needed, the rest came from the two performers on the stage. To view this masterclass in acting, make sure you get your self to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon to witness this production.

  • Show title: Ben and Imo
  • Venue: Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Swan Theatre
  • Review date: 27th February 2024
Header Image Credit: Royal Shakespeare Company

Author

Georgia Mussellwhite

Georgia Mussellwhite Voice Reviewers

1st Class BA Drama and Screen Studies graduate from the University of Manchester. Currently working at a Boarding School as a Drama Teacher and Resident Tutor.

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