The play begins at 8.9 on the dramatic Richter Scale. It’s the dying days of WW1 and it’s all unravelling for the Axis Powers. With a battle raging beyond, an animated Hungarian soldier sits among the chaos on a sloping mountainside sketching a terrified Romanian village girl. Art, power and politics have met head on – we are unmistakably in Howard Barker territory.
Barker, a Brechtian and once enfant terrible of the British theatre, writes plays with historical events as the centrepiece. The operatic opening scene shrieks with the horrors of war – disintegrating as the Austro-Hungarian Campaign is collapsing and events tip over into civil war. From this stark location, we meet Bela and Grigor- two artists. The traumatising first scene – laced with comic irony, beautiful language and a miscellany of finely wrought characters. But soon we are transposed some years forward and all has changed- the lighting (Fausto Brusamolino) is soft, the costuming light and summery (Melanie Liertz) and the ambience carefree. Art and its importance is heatedly discussed in a salon. Director Damien Ryan orchestrates his scene changes with great care and discipline. The unrushed nature of them is a joy to behold as no apology is made for the detailed set ups – they are minutely timed and complemented by extraordinary projections (technology designed by Jeremy Page) with content showcasing the artist Nicholas Harding, and cartoonists Cathy Wilcox and David Pope along with haunting sound by Alistair Wallace. Designer Liertz, assisted by Ester Karuso-Thurn and scenic artist Anna Herold Pola, has populated the Reginald Theatre with an imposing rake viewed from the side, the environs littered with furniture and props in partial set up (also an occasional acting space) from where the actors source items for the ensuing scenes.
No End of Blame is total theatre, a tale of a dissident cartoonist’s fifty-year struggle against bureaucratic censorship – embracing many of the notions of Epic Theatre, Brecht, and Barker’s own constructs through his Theatre of Catastrophe and The Wrestling School. The talented ensemble of players etch their varying roles with absolute truth. Akos Armont as Bela is hypnotic, imbuing him with subtle physical changes over the span of the play. Sam O’Sullivan, as Grigor his comrade, presents a man full of passion and compassion, both a counterbalance to Bela’s constant urgency. Their tense journey is evoked beautifully – culminating in certain scenes where meaning is ambiguous. This is a Barker technique as he states that what passes may be unclear – to even him, the writer. His theatre is to create discomfort – not solely to entertain. I commend the use of the women actors in various roles intended for males. More of this please theatre makers!! Danielle King is mesmerising in her roles. Lizzie Schebesta is compelling as Ilona – particularly in her act 1 monologue, as is Angela Bauer as Stella- her strength and power as the life model in that aforementioned scene is memorable. Bryce Youngman oozes great stage gravitas – as a very comic RAF bumbler, a loose cannon Hungarian captain and a menacing surveillance operator. Amy Usherwood has a scene as a tea lady (with a back that fascinates Bela) – her attraction to this strange man is palpable, her body language organic as she sits way back on a couch, her legs dangling. Monroe Reimers shines as the mouthpiece for a burgeoning set of harried socialists and as an (unintentionally hilarious) water policeman.
With 60 characters and a dozen scenes it’s a busy night for ASM Martin Quinn and Stage Manager Maria Spataro – bouquets to them for keeping it all flowing seamlessly. But it’s Mr Ryan’s directorial decisions (ably assisted by Richard Hilliar) which permeate this intelligent and moving production. The off-kilter nature of the narrative is finely realised and staged – the actors constantly pushing against the angle of that imposing rake (a device also expertly utilised in Birdland- presently playing at New Theatre). A particular favourite set piece is Bela’s emotional breakdown which virtually has him, a la Sisyphus, pushing a boulder (in the guise of a Fleet St editor’s heavily laden desk) up a grade, only to have bureaucracy roll back over him.
I cannot recommend this work more highly – a must see for anyone studying theatre and for those who like drama raw and visceral. Oh, and be sure to read Damien Ryan’s extensive production notes in the program – well worth it.
Mark G Nagle – Theatre Now & On The Town
12 – 28 Oct
Thu 12 Oct 7:30pm
Fri 13 Oct 7:30pm
Sat 14 Oct 7:30pm
Tue 17 Oct 6:30pm
Wed 18 Oct 7:30pm
Thu 19 Oct 7:30pm
Fri 20 Oct 7:30pm
Sat 21 Oct 2pm, 7:30pm
Mon 23 Oct 6:30pm
Tue 24 Oct 6:30pm
Wed 25 Oct 7:30pm
Thu 26 Oct 7:30pm
Fri 27 Oct 7:30pm
Sat 28 Oct 2pm, 7:30pm
Venue: Seymour Centre: Reginald
Theatre Company: Seymour Centre and Sport For Jove Present
Duration: 120 minutes including interval
Sport for Jove presents Howard Barker’s No End of Blame; a sublimely playful, dangerous and pertinent political masterpiece. Set over 6 decades of the 20th Century across Europe, the story pits a passionate, provocative pair of artists, one a painter, the other a cartoonist, against the forces of censorship and insidious state control that corrupt and stifle the human right to freedom of thought and freedom of speech. This brutal and savagely funny play could not be more relevant to our modern world and its new brand of war, journalism and self-expression. A visual and aural feast for the senses.
With a stunning cast including Akos Armont, Lizzie Schebesta, Bryce Youngman, Sam O’Sullivan, Angela Bauer, Amy Usherwood, Danielle King and Monroe Reimers.
Please note, this production contains artistic nudity in the form life model drawing, occasional strong language and some violence.
Recommended for 15+.
Cast: Akos Armont, Lizzie Schebesta, Bryce Youngman, Sam O’Sullivan, Angela Bauer, Amy Usherwood, Danielle King, Monroe Reimers.
Director : Damien Ryan
Designer : Melanie Liertz
Lighting Designer : Fausto Brusamolino
Sound Designer : Alistair Wallace
Stage Manager : Maria Spataro
Assistant Director : Richard Hilliar
Assistant Stage Manager : Martin Quinn