It’s no secret that we are big fans of the Barn Theatre, the small but mighty Cirencester venue which has been tirelessly putting out fantastic digital content throughout the pandemic (as well as putting on some awesome in-person performances during the interlude between lockdowns when such things were permitted). We also love ourselves a leading lady and are rather partial to an interactive online experience. So we were just a teensy bit excited when the Barn announced that they were putting on a Choose Your Own Adventure style online concert featuring “the next generation of leading ladies”. And we were delighted to be invited to have a sneaky press preview of this exciting concept over the weekend.
The experience is the brainchild of Ryan Carter (who joined the Barn team in 2020 as their creative director of digital content) and puts the viewer in control of a concert which sees five selected leading ladies brought together (digitally) under mysterious circumstances. Each steps onto the stage of the empty Barn Theatre and performs a number to a magical musical backing track, before the full cast of 14 perform an encore (‘Big Finish’ from Smash – what else?!) that gives the viewer a tantalising look at the options they didn’t choose.
And for those who go into the experience with an idea of which singers they want to see, it’s worth noting that there is not a straightforward choice of five performers out of 14. Over the course of the concert, the viewer is presented with five ‘Choose Your Singer’ screens, prompting them to choose who goes next. Each performer only appears on a Choose Your Singer screen once during the course of the concert, so if you don’t select a singer when you can, there is no chance to choose them again later. Unless, of course, you pick the ticket that gives you 24-hour access to complete the concert in as many combinations as you like.
We thoroughly recommend this option to avoid getting stagey fomo. Since the Choose Your Player screens group the characters by style of song (focusing on the archetypes of female musical character, ranging from princesses and dreamers to villains and divas) there is a good chance that you will find yourself torn between some of the players on the same screen. (We found the third screen to be an almost impossible choice!) And why would you not want to watch all 14 anyway? Although there are a mind-boggling 162* combinations for completing the concert, you only need to go through three times to see all of the different performers.
*Yes, really. We didn’t just take the Barn’s word on this one. We worked it out ourselves. Not because we didn’t believe them but because maths is fun.
This does require you to watch one (of a choice of two) performances twice and also gets you the encore three times but you can skip it if you want to (although why would you want to do that?) If we were being picky (and we are because the Barn put us in charge of picking our own performers) we might query why they went for the awkward figure of 14 instead of the 15 that would have been nicely divisible by five. But we’d rather have that than knock it down to just 12, which would be the next number that would would result in an even split across all the Choose Your Player screens. See – More fun maths!
I will personally reward anyone that completes all 162 possible combinations.
There are some fantastic performances and really inspired song choices, meaning Mummy and Mrs Mummy found it too difficult to agree on their ideal combination of five songs, but the standout performer for both of us had to be Kayleigh McKnight performing ‘World Burn’ from Mean Girls. Good job we had unlimited access really, as she was in the impossibly difficult third Choose Your Player screen along with Ellie Mitchell who made a mean Mama Morton and Aisha Jawando with a wicked rendition of ‘The Last Midnight’ from Into the Woods.
Kayleigh McKnight in The Secret Society of Leading Ladies
It’s an innovative take on the now commonplace online concert, with the interactive element making it that bit more exciting than a bog standard stream. The thing that makes it far more than just a snazzy screen with a choice between a few videos is the way in which it all fits cleverly together, with the different characters interacting in between numbers. Although the broad narrative stays the same for each version, the various combinations in which the show can be performed means that this is an impressive feat, with some characters referencing the precise song sung by the previous performer. It’s brilliantly done and great fun the first time around although we suspect it would probably lose its shine some time slightly before the 162nd. But then again, we didn’t actually try them all, so maybe we’re missing out…..
The Secret Society of Leading Ladies runs from 22 February to March.We received complimentary Unlimited Stream tickets in return for a review.