Howard Barker and I haven’t had the best of starts. When, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to his work in a season of plays presented at the Riverside studios, I found the experience joyless and cerebral. Interesting definitely, but suffocating at the same time. Inevitably I was approaching the National Theatre production of Scenes from an Execution, directed by Tom Cairns, with a certain amount of caution.
The beginning of the play both confirmed and disproved some of these notions: a man – or rather a talking head – sitting on a white box floats towards the audience. A woman – powerful, sexy, unselfconscious, full of acerbic humour – paints a naked man (her lover). They have a fight. She has been commissioned an epic painting to commemorate the battle of Lepanto. She is too full of life not to seek the truth in her art, and too short sighted to see anything else. Continue reading