The Ecstatic Bible
5:00pm, Thu 2 Mar 2000
Short Review: Have-baby-person-dies
This is the world premiere of this Howard Barker play (ha! I saw a WORLD PREMIERE!), created in a unique collaboration between Barker’s own production company, The Wrestling School, and the Adelaide-based Brink Productions. Barker and Adelaidean Tim Maddock split directorial duties between Britain and Australia (apparently directing different characters from the text), with the two companies coming together for just the last few weeks of rehearsal. A bold move indeed; but one wonders whether it was worth the effort?
Four “Parts” spread over 7 hours, 55 minutes (including intervals). Reportedly, there’s 30 distinct chapters in there. And to be frank, I haven’t got a bloody clue what was going on. This review should make that pretty clear, and I apologise in advance for any ridiculous typos, misnomers, lack of understanding, etc…
The play seems to centre around the reluctant immortals, Mrs Gollancz and her doting, but unrequited, Priest. Of that I’m reasonably certain, since it is introduced very early in the first Part. Thereafter the plot descends into a steady cycle which can only be described as “have baby, person dies”, as Gollancz pops kiddies out everywhere, the Priest mourns Gollancz’s lack of moral fortitude (and his own desire for her), and a complex array of characters intertwine to weave as complex a story as this little reviewer has ever seen.
There’s an awful amount of angst going on; plenty of death, plenty of births to go with it, and the first three Parts seem to rely heavily on the concept of uncontrollable, unrequitable desires. Yet amongst it all there are still traces of impossible humour. The second Part, in particular, was particularly well scripted – in that it was coherent :) But what was up with that ending?
Without a doubt, the play was remarkably well done – all the performers (especially those from TWS) were exceptional, the sound was great, the direction and production competent. However, the content was as thick as mud and, apart from the second Part, almost impossible to wade through. Keeping track of the multitude of characters; who begat whom; who lusted whom; how many years had passed; whether character X actually knew Y; and so on. This is not for the faint of heart or loose of memory.
Barker has said that he doesn’t mind if people leave in the middle of the performance. Just as well, really – the opening night audience thinned to about half it’s original number by the end of the performance, with the performers equalling the audience in number. Was it really that bad? Well, no – as mentioned before, it was technically pretty good. But the sheer amount of information being thrown at you made it difficult to absorb and, by the final curtain, it was kind of a relief to step out of Gollancz’s and the Priest’s miseries.
My advice? If you don’t already have an intimate knowledge of the play, go spend your 8 hours & $48 on four plays at the Foreign Legion & International Brigade.