THE TWELFTH BATTLE OF ISONZO & JUDITH: A PARTING FROM THE BODY
by Howard Barker.
Arcola Theatre (Studio Two), 21 Ashwin St E8 3DL To 19 December 2015.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2 hours One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: William Russell 27 November.
Completely in the dark.
There is no denying this challenging, baffling, well-performed double-bill is a theatrical event, but what it is all about is at times hard to fathom.
The second play, Judith: A Parting from the Body about Apocryphal Jewish woman Judith and her mission to kill the tyrant Holofernes, is pretty straightforward. It gets terrific performances from the three-strong cast. Judith, beautifully done by Catherine Cusack, arrives to find Holofernes on the even of battle pondering about death, that of the soldiers and his own.
Liam Smith creates a splendidly unimpressive great man – great generals are seldom giants of mankind. Kristin Hutchinson as Judith’s maid, a sardonic onlooker, seizes her chances splendidly.
Holofernes is seduced, gets beheaded and Judith, elated by what she has done, has sex with his corpse, only to complain when he fails to rise to the occasion.
The Twelfth Battle of Isonzo, getting its UK premier, opens the evening and is something of a problem. The audience sits down; the “footlights” surrounding the acting space are focused on the watchers, blinding them. It is possible, with some difficulty, to make out a young woman in a white wedding-dress seated staring ahead.
Then the lights go out. An hour in total darkness is unnerving at the best of times and this is no exception. Everyone has head-phones through which in stereophonic sound the play proceeds, the voices of the hundred year-old Isonzo (Nicholas LePrevost) and the 19 year-old Tenna (Emily Loomes), both blind, echoing as if from some vast wasteland. It is a bit like listening to the radio in a power cut.
The trouble is that the echo-chamber effect sabotages the players. Le Prevost comes off better, but at times it is hard to make out what Loomes is saying. Sound designer Ian Armstrong pay heed.
What we get is a battle of the sexes; will he seduce her, will she let him; will he survive, will she? They are blind, but so is the audience. Barker never makes things easy for audiences and in these well-directed plays he certainly does them no favours.
The Twelfth Battle of Isonzo
Isonzo: Nicholas Le Prevost.
Tenna: Emily Loomis.
Stage directions read by Liam Smith.
Judith: A Parting from the Body
Holofernes: Liam Smith.
Judith: Catherine Cusack.
The Servant: Kristin Hutchinson.
Director: Robyn Winfield-Smith.
Designer: Rosanna Vize.
Sound: Iain Armstrong.
Composer: Isonzo: Gregory Batsleer, Judith: Nick J Jones.
Movement: Lawrence Carmichael.