Seduction of Almighty God by the Boy Priest Loftus in the Abbey of
Riverside Studios, London
Howard Barker is a playwright who divides audiences. For nearly thirty years (not counting his initial period of naturalistic political satires) he has been creating dense, opaque, vast dramas with a wider scale of reference, setting and intent than any other playwright writing in the English language. Barkerís plays offer characters in often unclear historical or geographical setting, frequently without a clear narrative, and whose dialogue is always rich in argument, thought and language.
Much though Barker
claims not to deal in stories that the audience can understand, The
Seduction of Almighty God... offers a pretty clear narrative:
Loftus, a devout 17-year-old, arrives at an abbey which is being
dismantled during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
Only a tiny number of the monks remain, and these have all but abandoned
monastic life in favour of sleeping with the local women and selling off
their refectory for personal gain. Loftus is more idealistic, but also
suffers from terrible fits, which appear to possess the power to give or
take life. Through the course of the play we see him gain power at the
abbey only to be ultimately destroyed by his appalling gifts.
This production is
something of a departure from recent Wrestling School productions, since
it is not directed by Barker himself, but by the French director
Guillaume Dujardin. It is still designed by the theatre companyís
favourite designer, Tomas Leipzig - albeit in one of his least
characteristic designs for the company since his first commission in
1996 - the interior of the abbey is rendered as vast pillars and walls,
all swaddled in swathes of thick plastic sheeting; chilly, minimalist,
modern and oddly artistic - like some giant Christo & Jeanne-Claude
work; managing to create the impression of a huge building without
anything more solid than a few plastic sheets. It is a design concept
which allows suggestion to work on the imagination, creating the
impression of something far more tangible than a literal representation
could have ever achieved.
The company of actors
also contains far fewer of the usual Wrestling School suspects than
recent outings for the company. This Ďnew broomí approach has its
advantages; the company appears really to have dedicated time to finding
their way into the script, rather than - as was in danger of becoming
the case - slipping on a new costumes (often similar to their last),
distributing the new set of characters, and settling into familiar
patterns of movement and delivery.
excellent is Leander Deeny as the boy Loftus. As well as handling
Barkerís dense script intelligently, Deeny also brings a brilliant
sense of deadpan comic timing to the script. Where in the past
Barkerís sense of humour has gone either unremarked or unnoticed -
buried in rather more oblique acting styles - in The Seduction...
there are moments where the dramatic action resembles nothing so much as
a Pythonesque bedroom farce. None of this diminishes the more highbrow