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