New theatre company Tooth & Sinew’s premiere production of Howard Barker’s SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION lives up to the company’s name.
It’s an apt choice, as Barker’s language is muscular, visceral and a veritable anatomical alphabet.
Our first image is of a female artist sketching a nude male model. Her first words are about buttocks. “Dead men float with their arses in the air.”
What follows is a balletic observation of the derrieres of the deceased: “After the battle the waves were clotted with men’s bums, reproachful bums bobbing the breakers, shoals of matted buttocks, silent pathos in little bays at dawn”. Arse for art’s sake.
The artist, Galactia, has been commissioned by the state to paint the Battle of Lepanto and she is determined to capture the anger, the pain, of men minced, boys butchered…
She pays a survivor of the battle to see his wounds which comprise a crossbow bolt to the brain and a gaping bowel, literally spilling his guts.
She has been given the job because the Doge of Venice, Urgentino, believes her paintings sweat. “Muscle. Knuckle. Shin. No one drapes in your pictures. They clash. Kissing even, is muscular”. But he is not pleased that the painting in progress is not a patriotic celebration of victory nor that his admiral brother does not occupy a prominent enough position in the painting.
And so the conflict between public purse and artistic purity is canvassed and the abstract values of truth taken between the teeth, tussled, mauled, ravaged in a rollicking, robust cut and thrust piece of theatre.
Lucy Miller emphatically embodies the character and qualities of Galactia – sensual, passionate, true to herself and her art – a poignant portrait of the artist both vilified and vindicated.
Mark Lee is pitch perfect as the pragmatic politician, Urgentino, bouffant haired bantam strut vainglorious bastard. The unctuous urgings of this gent portray a playful glee in the game of dissembling and duplicity. He likes to run with the foxy artist and hunt with the hounds of the establishment.
Jeremy Waters is very good as Carpeta, the Christ on a Cross scumbler and married younger lover of Galactia, threatened by the woman’s thrust and talent, an adulterer cuckolded by creativity.
Peter Maple is particularly fine as Prodo, the anatomical marvel of a war veteran quite literally a numb-skull who makes a living from his intestinal fortitude.
A sterling supporting cast comprising Lynden Jones, Peter Maple, Brendan Miles, Katherine Shearer and Nicole Wineberg perform double duty in an array of characters that include clerics, critics, confederates and conspirators.
Andrea Espinoza’s set design is simple, evocative and economical, perfectly suited to its themes and the theatre space. Ladders, trestles and planks inform an artist’s work place and easily transform into thrones and dungeons, aided by Ben Brockman’s lighting design that pitches a palette of a warm wash to the hint of wick flicker to conjuring darkness visible.
Credit is also due to Chritie Bennett’s costumes that contribute to the rich feel of the show.
Director Richard Hilliar helms the whole heaving canvas with deft, dramatic brush-strokes, bringing out the hues and tinctures of sly comedy and political manoeuvrings.
An epic theatrical exhibition well executed in an intimate environment.
SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION plays till the end of May, running Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays 5pm at the Old Fitzroy, Woolloomooloo.
For more about scenes from an execution, visit http://www.sitco.net.au