Barbara Allen by David Pownall

Contact Us

BBC Radio 7, 5 August 2010

Inspired by the folk-song of the same name, Barbara Allen told the sad tale of a young man, Jemmy Grove (Benedict Sandiford) falling head-over-heels in love with Barbara Allen (Honeysuckle Weeks). However Barbara refuses all his advances, leaving Jemmy so bereft that he resolves to die. Despite every attempt to revive him by his father and mother (Keith Barron, Natasha Pyne), the young man passes away, his heart broken.

However there is a twist to the tale. Set in 1651, two years after the execution of King Charles I, Barbara Allen focuses on the ideological conflicts between Cavaliers and Roundheads. Jemmy's father Sir John (Barron) is an army general with little time to devote to his family as he continues fighting in the English Civil War. Barbara's father is a Leveller, who, although not directly connected to the Roundheads, nonetheless preaches the gospel of equality and social justice. Eventually it transpires that Sir John captured Barbara's father and forced him to eat some of the Leveller pamphlets; needless to say, the father choked to death. The entire episode of Jemmy and his non-existent love-affair with Barbara has been planned by Barbara's mother as a way of revenging herself on the Grove family.

Punctuated with extracts from the folk song, Barbara Allen was a study in futility. Although the Allens had justifiable grounds for revenge, it seemed sad that Jemmy rather than Sir John had to suffer: Jemmy was a sixteen-year-old innocent, inexperienced in the ways of love. Barbara herself experienced similar torments, as she admitted that she had some romantic feelings for the young boy. However they had to be suppressed so that her mother's scheme could be successfully worked out.

Peter Kavanagh's production contained a clutch of memorable characterizations. Keith Barron's Sir John was all beef and bluster, so preoccupied with winning the Civil War that he had become indifferent to anyone's feelings. The same could also be said of Natasha Pyne's Mrs. Allen, who sewed on her loom (recalling Penelope in mythology) while informing her daughter of the unfortunate Jemmy's demise. Jemmy's servant Silas (Adam Godley) was caught bang in the middle of the entire affair; while being well aware of Barbara's indifference, he could not refuse his master's wishes.