The Wrestling School / Howard Barker, Thirteen Objects

Review in Issue 15-4 | Winter 2003

That a performance takes place in a theatre does not, of itself, make it theatrical - although, of course, going to the theatre means precisely seeing work that may change, or at least challenge, what one imagines to be theatrical’. From a company called the Wrestling School’ one might hope for a lesson in the physicalisation of text and space; for an approach to performance that has developed beyond the conventional inert postures which are supposed to be compensated by an affected ‘classical’ or ‘emotive’ tone of voice.

There are those who find Barker’s company exciting and distinctive, but neither quality was discernible on this occasion. The stage offered no refrac tion of text in performance, but sim. ply a backdrop - as if everything had been rehearsed in the absence of the design. Even the basic physical function of entrance and exit was clumsy, while the lighting appeared to have been added as an after thought.

For theatrical experiment there must be a question, a challenge, addressed to its own performance possibilities. Here it felt as though nothing was to be discovered about the text - still less about its ‘thirteen objects’ - through the performance. With everything described in words, often numbing in their literalness, the presence of anything else - not just the objects, but also the audiencefelt redundant.

In a scene devoted to a postcard, for instance, the text satirises the duplication of the image by the written caption, while the actress simply stands before us, holding the postcard to which she occasionally draws our attention by turning it over in her hand. Barker, as the director of his own work, appears indifferent to a history of theatrical research in which the performance of text, as a physical relation between word and image, has indeed been wrestled with between writer and director-Genet and Blin, or Garcia, for instance; or Bemhard and Peymann, Koltès and Chéreau.

To recall an old Artaudian metaphor for performance: being offered the hollow and desiccated husk of its skin, sloughed off long since, offers no experience of either the snake’s movement or its bite.

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Oct 2003

This article in the magazine

Issue 15-4
p. 28 - 29