Review: The Wellspring. Royal and Derngate Theatre Northampton

The Wellspring

As the lights dim and the production begins, the stage is near empty. Just a small screen, a trailer of props and an upright rickety piano stand there proudly. However, nothing else is needed. This deeply autobiographical play, that is part of the Made in Northampton 2021/2022 season, takes us through the complex father and son relationship, of Barney and David Owen Norris. The pair take it in turns to share anecdotes of their hardship, memories and childhood. David Owen Norris, an internationally acclaimed pianist, accompanies these with interjections of various songs on the piano, from Clementi’s First Sonatina to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, with a mix of folk music intertwined.

This seventy-minute show, directed by Jude Christian, opens with a quiz to the audience about a specific Northamptonshire battle; the battle of Naseby. With the duo having been in and around the county for their whole lives, the play is constantly making jokes about the places, the people and the accents this area has. As someone who isn’t from around here at all, sometimes I find these  difficult to understand but the rest of the audience join together to chuckle away. So many moments make everyone erupt into laughter, then some moments just portray the emotional power that these tales can hold.

As the intimate story telling continues, Barney brings out an electric hob from the aforementioned trailer of props. He begins cooking something. Whatever it is fills the theatre with a delicious, buttery, garlicky aroma. It feels like we are all just sat in their kitchen, listening them relaying stories to one another. This feeling is furthered when they sit down to eat it together. The age-old story of a father and son reminiscing over a shared meal.

The stage décor, by Rosie Elnile and co-designer Tomas Palmer, is minimal but is utilized with great effect. Every prop that is held, although used sparingly, beautifully aids the story that is being told. Furthermore, Megan Lucas’s video design and Jack Weir’s lighting illustrates the importance of the anecdotes being shared.

At one point, David Owen Norris relays a story of his French piano teacher and how frustrated he got when he had to play specific chords. The way he uses the piano sounds to explain the scenario, and uses it for comedic effect is admirable. The whole of the audience laugh but are equally mesmerized by the talent this pianist has. Soon after the lights dim and only David is lit. The symphony being played fills the entire theatre, with everyone just being encapsulated by his fingers gliding across the keys and enthralled by this talent that must have taken years to perfect.

The pure passion for storytelling that this pair has, shines through with every spoken word. With the assistance of musical interjections and Megan Luca’s video design, it is clear that this piece had been elegantly constructed to the finest of details. Every time one Norris hands over to the other, their stories intertwine so perfectly. 

As one profound moment in The Wellspring so perfectly states: ‘the power music exerts, is extraordinary’.

The Wellspring runs at Royal and Derngate until 26th March then tours

Reviewer Bea Maynard

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