Review: Scenes From An Execution (Tooth And Sinew Theatre)

toothsinewVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 13 – 31, 2014
Playwright: Howard Barker
Director: Richard Hilliar
Actors: Lucy Miller, Jeremy Waters, Mark Lee, Katherine Shearer, Nicole Wineberg, Peter Maple, Brendan Miles, Lynden Jones
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
There are many pleasures to be found at the theatre but what we seek essentially, is to be fascinated by the unusual talents of live performers, and to satisfy the craving we have for stories that are engaging and meaningful. Howard Barker’s Scenes From An Execution is strangely hypnotic. His tale unfolds slowly, taking unconventional and sometimes uncomfortable diversions, but the promise of a substantial imminence is always palpable, and the conclusion is certainly gratifying. Barker’s writing is poetically beautiful, and his ideas are inspiringly radical. His varied themes include love, war, art, religion, politics and propaganda, covering with depth, many of the big questions that are as relevant today as they had been in Venice 1571, where the play is situated.

A remarkable feature of the work is its extraordinary protagonist Galactia, a painter of note, and a woman with a liberated and unorthodox lifestyle. Our own values are examined through her resolute belief in an artist’s responsibility to uphold truths, even in the face of great adversity and sacrifice. Barker’s heroine is powerful and awe-inspiring. She is a feminist ideal, and sadly, a manifestation that rarely figures in the narratives of our cultures. Galactia’s fearless determination and assertive wisdom is realised on the Sydney stage magnificently by actor Lucy Miller. Miller is convincing, compelling and electrifying. She approaches the character with raging imagination and delivers a performance completely arresting in its meticulousness and unpredictability. Even in scenes lit so dim we can barely see, Miller is riveting, and her creation is a woman on a pedestal that we all must aspire to.

Supporting Miller is an exceptional cast. It is a rare gathering (especially in independent theatre) with all actors displaying astounding talent and impressive experience. It is truly a joy to watch these artists work their magic, all performing with gusto as well as nuance, each carving out many memorable moments for themselves. Mark Lee as Urgentino is energetic and full of passion. Sharply ironic, and fabulously witty, Lee’s command of the script ensures that his scenes are consistently entertaining, and politically cutting. Jeremy Waters brings a complexity to his role of Carpeta that keeps us intrigued and enthralled. His love affair with Galactia is surprisingly dimensioned, and his depiction of an artist under the control of money and power is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Waters is an intense and intelligent actor, whose unmissable performance in the closing moments of Act 1 leaves us breathless.

Director Richard Hillier’s obvious talent is his thorough understanding of the craft of acting. He has created all the circumstances required for the cast to unleash their best upon us. Hillier’s sensitivity for spaces, whether mental, emotional or physical, allows him to facilitate all the action that happens between actors, and the connection between stage and audience. Hillier indulges in abstractions, but is careful to provide points of focus to always keep us reeled in. His affinity with the the play’s core message is a strong one, and the authentic clarity at which he voices it is full of flair, and indeed, admirable.

Death and taxes are said to be the only certainties in life. In Scenes From An Execution, a deconstruction of war and of our political leaders gives us an opportunity to gain insight into our part as mere mortals and pawns in a world of deceit and manipulation, rife with the glorification of needless deaths. Hogwash is ubiquitous but where great art exists, we find the eternal and the truth, and we rediscover the divine within.