by Peter Barnes.
King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 1 August 2015.
Tue-Sat 7pm Mat Sun & 1 Aug. 2pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7193 7846.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 July.
Unlikely, unusual, unfashionable but valuably unique drama capably unearthed.
With the revival earlier this year of The Ruling Class, the full-length play with which he exploded onto the theatre scene at Nottingham Playhouse in 1968, it’s an apt time for Rough Haired Pointer theatre to return to the King’s Head with Peter Barnes’ smaller, but no less rough drama from the following year.
Both plays share, with other Barnes dramas, an apparently blasphemous freedom with religion that actually holds Christianity in higher regard than its many manifestations upon earth.
Here he attacks the asceticism that’s apparently a search for absolute holiness through denial of all comfort and earthly pleasure. Saint (as he styles himself) Eusebius stands in penitent clothing (a loincloth), encrusted in dirt, living on a diet of dirty water ands olives, his lifelong durance increased by balancing on a brick, chanting prayers. It’s a life of self-abnegating devotion aimed at achieving heavenly eternity.
Or so it seems, until Saint Pior arrives, scrambling down the mound of excrement which is all that disturbs the flat terrain. Similarly garbed and, like Eusebius, with hands and feet both manacled, Pior claims God’s voice told him to come here.
At once the unearthly twosome mark the place as their personal terrain, each undermining the other’s claims. The oh-so-saintly soon become ever so childish, scrapping away, shouting at each other and wholly comi.
Given the playwright’s taste for mixing-in elements of popular entertainment, they manage to combine for a song-and-dance routine before continuing the argument. Barnes’ pointed playfulness continues to the jokey end, where a third saint arrives in familiar manner to share the applause. There seems no end of supply of these ascetics.
As of modern suicide bombers. For this revival comes in an age where denial of all but religious devotion has acquired a newly sinister aspect. Yet Barnes targets the low jealousies running inside the high aspirations, Jake Curran’s Pior the more ridiculously comic for his slim height, and Jordan Mallory Skinner’s Eusebius sharply calculating, using his intelligence to gain a point.
Mary Franklin’s amusing production might find more hilarity when given the larger audience this adventurous revival deserves.
St Eusebius: Jordan Mallory Skinner.
St Pior: Jake Curran.
St Eusebius II: Jamie Sheasby.
Director: Mary Franklin.
Designer: Christopher Hone.
Lighting: Seth Rook Williams.
Movement: Yarit Dor.
Costume: Balbina Garcia.
Fight director: Henry Devas.