Fiona Shaw gives bravura show in Scenes from an Execution

Oct 10, 2012

Actress plays Galactia 'like a Renaissance Tracey Emin' in funny, wise tale of art and power

Mark Douet

What you need to know
A revival of British playwright Howard Barker's drama about artistic freedom, Scenes from an Execution, directed by Tom Cairns, has opened at the National Theatre. The play was originally written for Radio 3, and starred Glenda Jackson in the 1984 production, before being adapted for the stage.
Set in 16th Century Venice, Scenes from an Execution is a tale of sexual politics, ambition and the role of the artist. When Galactia disappoints her patron, the Doge, with a painting decrying rather than celebrating war, her ambitious younger lover and protégé Carpeta seizes the assignment for himself.

Fiona Shaw stars as the free-spirited Galactia and Jamie Ballard plays her lover Carpeta. Tim McInnerny plays the Doge. Runs until 9 December.

What the critics like
Howard Barker's play is a marvel, says Libby Purves in The Times. It's a "philosophical, funny and wise tightrope-act". Romantic and cynical, irresistibly comic, but moving and grumpily humane, it refuses a simplistic message. "Wonderful."

This is a fine revival of Barker's tremendous play about the relation of the artist to the state, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Fiona Shaw, padding around the stage "like a Renaissance Tracey Emin", captures all the obsessiveness and intransigence of the artist. It has the feel of "a contemporary classic".
Fiona Shaw gives a bravura performance, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. She "brilliantly communicates the animal energy", dishevelled sensuality and uncompromising spirit of this artist. Tim McInnerny is "wonderfully absurd and sinister" as the idiotically self-pitying Doge.

What they don't like
There is something self-congratulatory about this play, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. Galactia seems like a self-portrait of Barker as a middle-aged woman. One suspects Barker secretly envies his heroine for provoking the state to imprison her "when his own deliberately provocative work is often received with weary indifference".

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