Castle in the air
Howard Baker weaves a warped btit epic vision of history. Kenny Ireland is staging it. Neil Cooper discovers why.
Imagine if all the pregnant women of a village threw themselves from the highest point of a castle. ()r if a mystic peasant woman found guilty of murder had the rotting body of her victim strapped to her and was forced to carry it wherever she went. This is the imagined world of Howard Barker's The Castle. and the second image is something director Kenny ll'ClZlIld sees as ‘an incredible symbol of how if you kill the man in yourself all you’ve got left is a dead man. It works the other way round too‘.
In The Castle -- rooted. like all Barker's plays. in an imagined history — a crusading knight returns from the Seven Years‘ War to find his wife is not only shacked tip with a charismatic peasant woman. btit has been instrumental in creating a society where men only exist to serve their mistresses, on the land or between the sheets. The knight's reaction ofbtiilding the biggest and best castle he can is an obvious
5,. s , _‘
reassertion of manhood. while the erection of an even larger. rival fortress is a nod to the nuclear arms race.
First staged by the RSC ten years ago. the play grew out of the sense of exclusion Barker felt after visiting (‘ireenhani Common. ‘lle understood why they were doing it. btit actually said he felt sorry for the soldiers.‘ says Ireland. ‘lt‘s quite easy to do this play as a feminist thing and to sell the idea of the perfect female society which gets fucked tip once men return from war. At the time of the original production it was trendy to think like that and people brought in their own agendas. l didn't want to direct the play like that because ldidn‘t believe it.
‘We all have this male and female side. yet male qualities like aggression
The Castle rooted in an imagined history
and achievement are rewarded by society whether you‘re a man or a woman. whereas. if you‘re interested in liaiiioiiy and balance. you're laughed at and are supposed to wear an anorak.‘ Currently two years in as artistic director at the Royal Lyeetiiii. Ireland
‘If you’re interested in hamony and balance, you’re laughed at and are supposed
to wear an anorak.’
set tip The Wrestling School eight years ago with like—minded aitists frustrated by the lack of opportunity to present Barker‘s lays with their proper epic sweep. He works closely with Barker.
and has a huge archive of letters
outlining Barker‘s worries prior to production. Once in rehersal though. things are pretty much left to Ireland. "There is a liberation in the writer saying that whatever you think it means is valid. You‘re not worried about
I saying something to actors and the
writer disagreeing. which only confuses
The Castle will allow l‘idinburgli audiences to see the benefits of an ensemble that has worked together since November. an approach that has allowed Ireland to stage a more recent Barker piece at short notice. The addition of two late-night performances of Judith at The ’l’raverse provides a rare opponunity to see two very different works in the same week.
‘I want people to turn out to see these plays.’ says Ireland. ‘I want to define the parameters of what I'd like to achieve at the Lyceum. and to an extent The ('axr/e is one end of it. I‘m not suggesting we do wall-to-wall Barker. bill that as well as in Bet/mum I’art‘e. lloward takes characters who are m etti'enn's. They're one step ftiither than tragedy. so rather than call the play a tragedy you call it Theatre of Catastrophe. Btit if you allow that phrase to become a tyranny on you it doesn‘t work. I personally find the humour in Howard‘s plays irresistible. btit a lot of people miss it. They won‘t in The Castle though. l‘ve made sure of that.‘
The (‘asI/e. The ll’reSl/mg School. Royal Literati Theatre. lit/inbui‘gh. Wed .i—Sar 6 .llay; .lia/i'I/i. 'l'rai'erse Thea/re. Edinburgh. I’ri' 5/511! 6 May. 'lelephmie for (lentils.
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Plastered again: David Class In Lucky
Mime maestro David Glass has been visiting Edinburgh for some thirteen years now, something you might think would bring his superstitions to the boil. Not a jot of it. He’s even gone so
far as to call his first solo show for
two years Lucky, after the servant in Waiting For Godot. ‘lt’s like the way some people seem to have really appropriate names,’ says Glass, ‘while with others it seems to be the complete opposite of what they’re about.’
Which leads us to the play itself, for the Lucky of the title is an autistic boy born into an upside-down world of beauty and horror he can only half- comprehend. What follows is a dynamic inner voyage, combining a live soundscape by Sarah Collins with stunning, Japanese butch-influenced physicality by Class, who first encountered autism in Paris, where he worked with children with special needs just after leaving college.
He eventually hooked up with Collins
and Theatre de Complicité director Rae Smith, and undertook an extensive research process, involving much reading and followed by meetings with specialists - paediatricians, psychiatrists, social workers and others. ‘As you can imagine, there were lots of contradictory viewpoints,’ he says. ‘After that, we went into schools and worked with younger autistic children. Throughout this whole time Rae, Sarah and I kept a constant dialogue going while we tried to discover a theatre language appropriate to the material.’ Glass is keen to stress the result is not a story as such, but more ‘a poetic exploration of what it means to be autistic.’
All this is afar cry from his recent directing work on Gormenghast and Les Enfants de Paradis, large-scale shows performed by his own ensemble which travelled the world. Only now have these committments let up enough to allow Glass the space to
strut his solo stuff. ‘Apart from economics, the form and subject matter of solo shows can be more lefttield,’ he explains. ‘People who tend to go to arts centres are looking for that and can accept it on those terms.’
Besides Lucky, named by Time Dutas its show of the week, Class will be leading a masterclass for experienced performers who want to get in touch with some of the working methods used on the piece. ‘It’ll also touch on how emotions can be physicalised in an exterior way. Lucky is a very powerful piece and the response of pe0ple atterwards has been incredible. They’re very moved by it all. People are made to feel as well as think about what it’s like to be autistic. It’s not a light evening out.’ (Neil Cooper)
Lucky, David Glass, Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh, 28—30 Apr. David Class Masterclass, 29 Apr.
56 The List 2| Apr-4 May 1995