Hurts Given and Received

This event has now finished. Until May 9 2010

© Robert Workman

Time Out says  

Posted: Tue May 4 2010

Howard Barker's new play is an ambiguous interrogation of the artistic impulse that first enthralls, then frustrates. The action in Gerrard McArthur's production for the Wrestling School takes place on a set designed by the playwright himself, the eerily dislocated study of Bach, a poet. Perched atop a massive chair, hunched over an oversized writing desk, Bach hovers in the inky gloom, his only connection to the outside a long path of pallid wooden slats.

He is trying to write the perfect poem, but people keep bothering him. An old servant says he is dying: Bach coldly orders him to his deathbed. Friends and lovers arrive: Bach drives them away, reacting to their visitations with alternate indifference, mockery, astonishment and terror, dependant on how they will affect his precious poem. Yet he is not hateful: Barker neither romanticises the creative impulse, nor presents it as heartless ego, but something as absurd and animal as the need to eat, sleep or shit. Tom Riley is wonderful as Bach, unpleasant, but with a feral vulnerability, shaking as the women he victimises send him reeling with a flick of their skirts. And when he finally writes one, perfect page, there is the suggestion that maybe his actions were justified.

But things aren't that simple, more's the pity. In a scene of tense, illicit eroticism, the youthful Sadovee (Issy Brazier-Jones) appears to seduce Bach. Shortly thereafter, her identical sister assumes the poet's mantle, Bach sidelined. Here the play becomes not so much incomprehensible as entirely shapeless. Perhaps Barker is hinting at the universality of the artistic condition, but regardless, the last half hour sloshes and slops without dynamism or discernable plot or even characters. It's tedious and wildly unsatisfying, miring a hitherto fine piece of theatre. At least Barker probably suffered for it, if only in an artistic sense.

Riverside Studios details

Riverside Studios, Crisp Rd, W6 9RL

Riverside Studios

The Riverside Studios has had a long and enterprising history. Starting life as an industrial building in the 1800s, it was bought by the Triumph...

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