"Modern Epic Even more Relevant"
by Diane Samuels for remotegoat on 12/03/09

The Arcola Theatre with its low ceiling, metal pillars and rough brickwork proves to be the perfect location for Howard Barker's play of the early 1980s set three hundred or so years earlier in restoration England. It begins on displaced earth with a group of returning Royalists digging up the body of Republican luminary Bradshaw for dismemberment and public display around the country. Like a pack of dogs the new regime wants to piss on the old one and claim its turf. Meanwhile Bradshaw's widow is being sexually propositioned and insulted by Matthew Kelly's disgusted, yearning, bullish Ball, a Cavalier with a dose of the clap and a propensity to say "cunt".

Barker dissects the cost, price, possibilities and failings of revolution and progress on English soil by sending the widow Bradshaw, played with boiling serenity and flashes of fire by Geraldine James, on a mission to gather together the pieces of her husband's humiliated corpse. In London King Charles II emerges from his coronation brooding under the weight of his long black curly wig, rips it off to reveal an altogether more macho, cropped look and proceeds to encourage his courtiers to hurl bowling pins at the rotting head on a spike outside the window of the once intellectually penetrating Bradshaw. His mistress the Duchess of Devonshire relieves his ardour as he celebrates his dynasty's return to power. Nicholas Rowe as Charles is utterly convincing and complex, capturing the royal hauteur and melancholy of a man made to be king in a time when the monarch is increasingly seen as human rather than divine. The company works fluidly and expertly under Amelia Nicholson's sharp direction to double and deliver the long list of characters and all the performances are strong, some funny, some unnerving.

This is a timely revival of a bold and epic modern work that aspires to and mostly achieves a classic status. The scene in the vault of the Bank of England is even more relevant today than when the play was written, revealing the essential workings of capitalism and establishing just where the reins of power really lie. The revolutionaries have become a cabal of bankers. It is worth seeing this production for this alone.

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