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Posts Tagged ‘Howard Barker’

The second-half-is-better-than-the-first pattern continues, though in this case the difference between halves isn’t so great. Howard Barker’s debate about art is an interesting and original play, but it ends up only a partial success.

Fictitious Venetian artist Galactia is commissioned by Urgentino to produce an epic canvas of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto. It’s late and when it arrives it outrages with its realistic depiction of death – the truth rather than the glory of war. The church gets involved, obviously, Galactia is imprisoned and her disloyal lover Carpeta accepts a commission to produce a suitable alternative. Urgentino is now much more hands on, something even Carpeta struggles with – and anyway he only really does Christ’s. When critical acclaim is bestowed on Galatica’s work it is exhibited to great success and our debate about art versus representation comes to an end.

The debate is sometimes stimulating, there are some excellent characterisations of artists and models and it’s often funny. Fiona Shaw is excellent (and brave) as Galactica, prancing around the stage semi-clothed like a more modern woman, Tim McInnerny is very good (and very funny) as Urgentino and there’s a fine supporting cast. The staging and design are sometimes inconsiderate to those at the front and sides and this irritated me, particularly the prison scene which was virtually invisible from the front rows. 

This was my first brush with the prolific Howard Barker’s work since a brief (and unsuccessful) introduction by an RSC Pit season in the mid-80’s. It was better than those, but he’s still not an easy playwright as he’s more concerned with the debate than entertainment. A bit to intellectual for a good time tart like me.

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