Monday, 3 June 2013

Victory/The Possibilities

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
Playwright Howard Barker's wilfully singular poetic vision is rarely 
seen on his own country's main stages. With academic institutions 
picking up the slack, few schools have promoted Barker more than the 
Royal Conservatoire Scotland, which regularly throws its students in at 
the deep end to wrestle with Barker's back catalogue.

This latest programme of two plays form something of an end of term 
treat. Victory, tellingly subtitled Choices in Reaction, dates from 
1983,  and looks at the very personal consequences of political 
upheaval following the English Civil  War and Charles 11's restoration 
to the throne. This is done largely through the actions of Bradshaw, 
the widow of the leader of the revolt, whose body is dismembered and 
put on public display. As her sense of self-preservation is driven by a 
desire to piece her husband's body back together, the erotic charge of 
politics and power is laid bare in a stream of encounters, be they with 
devoted secretary, Scrope, randy squaddies or the mistress of the king 
she eventually works for.

This is complex and incendiary stuff for any cast, but with Hugh 
Hodgart and Mark Stevenson's production led by a heroic performance 
 from Paksie Vernon as Bradshaw, the young company rise to the occasion 
with aplomb. With the stage dominated by a set of mannequins hanging 
 from the rafters, there are as many thrilling theatrical moments as 
there are verbal ones. In the end, Bradshaw is attempting to 
reconstruct the body politic in a broken nation desperate with desire.

There is more of the same in Guy Hollands' boutique production of The 
Possibilities, Barker's 1986 compendium of ten short plays that map out 
a set of increasingly extreme reactions to life during wartime. 
Bookended by an east European chorale sung by the cast, these bite-size 
provocations are shot through with intimations of sex and violence that 
lend a mythic edge to Barker's imagined history plays. Assassination, 
seduction, terrorism, betrayal, attempted infanticide, invasion, the 
power of a woman's exposed ankle and other matters of life and death 
make for a thought-provoking evening that's designed to devastate.

The Herald, June 3rd 2013

ends

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