Written for The Stage
Howard Barker is looking startled. “I’m amazed, why would you leave?” I have just told him about the reports of early walk-outs in response to his claim that his play Scenes from an Execution is an easy ride. He looks genuinely baffled, and says: “It’s a pretty easy play to get on board with, it doesn’t give you a headache”.
Many people would disagree with him but then that is the story of Barker’s life. A tragedian in a world where comedy reigns, he is a lone figure. Still he casts a daunting shadow across the theatrical landscape with early productions at the RSC and Royal Court, plays such as Scenes from an Execution and Victory – which received a swaggering Arcola production starring Matthew Kelly in 2009 – and the formation of his own company The Wrestling School, created to carry out his vision of the ‘theatre of catastrophe’. “I believe in poetic discourse, in the value of speech in a non-naturalistic way, it’s speculative… I’m not interested in observed reality.”
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Written for The Stage
Howard Barker wants theatre to be an ordeal but this polished production by Robyn Winfield-Smith is anything but. Winfield-Smith encases Barker’s meaty poetry in cool performances and keeps this philosophical piece to a tight tempo.
Lot and his wife have been told to pack their bags by the angel sent to destroy Sodom. Justin Avoth as the avenging individual burns with a fierce intensity that makes his own descent into Lot’s wife’s bed even more acute. Mark Tandy’s Lot is more circumspect, he is cool in the face of his impending fate, both interrogating and searching to understand God’s will.
Hermione Gulliford as Sverdlosk – “the wife of Lot has her own name incidentally” – is as poised as a ballerina en pointe. Her intelligence is sharper than her designer suit but she does not use it to manipulate – her betrayals are sacrosanct because they are sanctioned by her husband, just as the angel’s are by God.
Barker’s language rolls around the space, verbose but lyrical. Winfield-Smith has punctuated his free-wheeling speeches perfectly – pointedly maximising their force.
Keeping within The Print Room’s tradition of beautifully designed productions, Fotini Dimou has created a fine podium for these meditations to be played out on.
Runs until 24th November. For more information go here.
Written for Whats On Stage
Whilst the nation is in the thralls of political discussion one writer remains defiantly apolitical. The Howard Barker Festival, opening today at Riverside Studios, is about sacrifice; but whilst this concept will ring true with people in the middle of a recession, it is not an association that he would welcome. Howard Barker has no respect for the conventional belief that theatre is there to ‘say something’; “Do you ask that question of modern abstract art? No. So why is theatre such a slave to the need to educate?”
So what drives him as a writer? “I am driven by personal crises” he states after some thought. And has he solved any of them yet? “Clearly not!”
I went to see Victory at the Arcola last week. This feast of a play is an early piece from that crusty bastion of British writing Howard Barker. Later Barker texts are seen to be a bit dry and preachy but nothing could be moister than this incredible play which swims around in the salacious possibilities of the English language with not a thought for the sparse contemporary lexicon which seems to restrict modern writers to the children’s paddling pool.