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Scenes From an Execution

29 October 15 words: Gareth Morgan
Painting a picture of the horrors of war, and art
Scenes From an Exectution

Photographs: Lace Market

The Lace Market Theatre, for me, has one of the braver programmes I've ever seen from an amateur-run group. Their latest offering, Howard Barker's Scenes From an Executionpart of their studio programme testing ground for new directing talent in the group, is as bold as anything else I've seen there over the last few years, but never cashes the cheques that the script is writing. 

The play follows artist Galactia, who has been commissioned by the Doge of Venice to paint a vast canvas celebrating the triumphant naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. She sets herself upon finding the truth of war in her painting, depicting it in all its cruelty, callousness and hacked off flesh. Determined to stay her course, she comes up against interference from state, church, family, lovers and the chattering classes, leading ultimately to broken Galactia - but her art survives.

Howard Barker's work is never a funfair. His own heady theatrical blend of sex, violence,paranoia and lust for power, all tarred and feathered with his own distinctive Marxist politics, makes for a meat-grinder of agit-prop statements, deep metaphors, coarse bedroom exchanges and insults. He is an overt writer but this production is overt for all the wrong reasons.

Richard Minkley's production is a ball of frustration. The usual ambition associated with the LMT is there, but so is an alarming lack of logic and consideration in the direction of the text. It feels lazy and under-thought. 
 
Scenes From an Execution

Barker's brutal satire is interpreted in many places as a camp farce, and I've rarely been to a show that involved so many slamming back-stage doors or exits made from stage purely for expedience rather than fully thinking through the fact the characters are walking through the painting. Scenes run into each other with confusing abandon and the uneven pace of the direction swings from turgid to breakneck transitions - actors entering before the dust has settled on the last exchange. There is no rhythm or pacing, no beats between scenes to give the audience that moment to consider what has just happened or been said. Coupled with this was a totally infuriating lack of consistency in the production - its Venice inhabiting a confused world of renaissance smocks and hi-vis vests. 

It's also strange that the show's thrust staging is so rarely used: the action is mostly end-on with forays between the traverse seated audience. A play about a painting lends itself to the perspective of an end-on staging, as if recreating the experience of standing before it, so this decision was another puzzling one. The staging makes it a difficult space to light, with cross-cutting beams of both light and wooden supports, and actors struggling to be properly and completely lit – often battling to find their light if anywhere on the thrust. 

There were some commendable performances, and director Minkley's stepping in as Doge Ugentino at the last minute due to a cast member's illness is to be applauded. Chris Collins, as Galactia's younger lover Carpeta, who is approached to take over the commission and greedily agrees, is a highlight. Despite this, Scenes From an Execution is a production less Venetian master and more back to the drawing board. 

Scenes From an Execution is at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 31 October 2015.

Lace Market website