Interview: Howard Barker

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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Review: Lot and His God

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.

Review: Snake In The Grass @ The Print Room

Alan Ayckbourn has always wanted to be taken seriously, despairing of the snobbery that consigns comedies, farces and thrillers to the servants’ quarters of British theatre. He looks to redress this balance with his ‘ghostly’ Snake In The Grass, a poisonous Home Counties comedy dealing with family abuse. A tight three hander, it’s a cracking opportunity for an actress to get her hands on some emotionally ripping stuff, punctuated with one liners that would make a stand up jealous.

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Review: Fabrication at The Print Room

Jasper Britton & Max Bennett in Fabrication

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In the dark before the curtains are raised the soothing voice of Sophocles tells us that we are to prepare ourselves for some poetry; it will be hard, but all we need to do to enjoy it, is to ‘adjust to its frequency’. No wiser piece of advice could be given, when heading into Pier Paolo Pasolini’s elegiac tragedy. Fabrication is a beautiful piece of work but it definitely takes time to sink into Pasolini’s baroque style.

A darkly woven tale of self proclaimed regicide, Fabrication charts the disintegration of a father whose relationship with his son is poisoned by the tormented memories of an ominous dream.

It is undoubtedly a daunting play in which long image heavy monologues mingle with snatches of normal conversation that perpetually teeter on the surreal. But Lucy Bailey’s complex production more than matches this densely layered text, fully committing to both the most poignant and ridiculous moments of Pasolini’s vision.

Jamie McKendrick’s version is intelligent and lyrical, and peppered (thank God!) with shards of wit. Mike Britton’s hellish gravel pit stage impresses both a sense of wealth and discomfort onto its voyeuristic audience. In fact this is a production which reeks of class; with a strong whiff of Federico Fellini in the classical elegance of the costumes. This pose is carried through to the hilt by a compelling cast, led with remarkable integrity by a virile Jasper Britton.

Fabrication is not an easy night at the theatre, but it’s an intellectually penetrating one. If this kind of difficult, classy work is what we are to expect from the newly opened Print Room, artistic directors Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters are posed to make some real waves with this powerful new venue.

Running until 04 December