Barry & Joan review – joyful celebration of eccentric entertainers

This tender tribute to dancing/mime/commedia dell’arte masters Barry and Joan Grantham is as sweet and nostalgic as elderflower cordial. Married for donkey’s years, the couple are somewhere in their 80s or 90s. This film is airily unspecific about such details, although every clip showing one of their film appearances is accompanied by a date, some going back to the 1940s.

Manchester-reared Barry started out as a “ballet boy”, trained with famed dancer Stanislas Idzikowski whom he still refers to as his “beloved master”, and even appeared in Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes in 1948. Joan, from the more genteel home counties, was a second or third generation musician and came up through the business as a dancer as well, but also tickled the ivories; now she mostly plays accompaniment on the piano in the couple’s studio as they train various adult pupils in the mysteries of commedia, diction and performance in general.

The students interviewed here clearly adore them, and talk with endearing, gushy enthusiasm about the experience of learning from them. Director Audrey Rumsby, one of the Granthams’ students herself, clearly shares that affection but smartly upholsters her film with a rich seam of archive footage and original animation that goes well beyond the title couple themselves. As a result, the movie provides a brisk, efficient primer on commedia dell’arte, from its roots in Italy and on through Molière and Shakespeare, on to vaudeville and Max Miller, and right up to James Corden and One Man, Two Guvnors. Friends of the Granthams offer extra insight about the use of masks and acting skills. The whole package works a treat for theatre geeks, mime fans and lovers of “eccentric dance.”

Barry & Joan is released on 6 May in cinemas.


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