Theatre Review – Judith
Howard Barker is considered to be one of the most significant dramatists to emerge from the British political theatre of the 1970s but consistently receives a negative critical reception from the British press. He’s seen to be eccentric, an elitist nihilist and if that’s not enough bad press is also, quite amazingly, an enemy not only of the left but the right as well. It goes without saying that Barker must be an outspoken critic of contemporary theatre; as far as Barker is concerned contemporary theatre is either merely entertaining or sycophantic in its attempt to reinforce the mores of a conventional society.
Given all this, it seems unavoidable that a night watching one of Barker’s plays promises to be a confronting, and if you have any political views at all, possibly uncomfortable experience and the production of Judith by The Impending Room working in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers doesn’t disappoint.
Judith is based on the biblical story of Judith, a brave and beautiful widow who, in order to save Israel from an attack, seduces and then beheads the enemy general, Holofernes. Holofernes has been told to attack the Israelis as punishment for their refusal to support Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Assyria; it is an attack the Israelis will be unable to withstand. The successful execution (pun not intended) of Judith’s plan is their only hope.
Barker’s play focuses on the psychological nature of seduction. He utilizes Baudrillard’s theory of seduction by setting up a series of binary opposites all of which he invests in his characterization of Judith, a convincing performance by Luisa Hastings Edge and Holofernes, played by NIDA graduate Benedict Samuel. On the surface Judith appears flirtatious, weak and vulnerable, Holofernes in control and strong but underneath Judith is determined and courageous and Holofernes weak and fatally, on the eve of battle, preoccupied with death. The passive power play and the active use of weakness as a means of survival is something that both characters use to their advantage – although ultimately, one obviously does it better than the other.
If all this sounds demanding it’s because Barker’s plays are demanding and should the mind wander and start pondering deep questions such as whether to have a pinot grigio or pinot gris at the perfectly positioned bar at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre subtle hints at new character developments, often as subtle as a sledge-hammer will pass you by and you’ll be left with nothing to look forward to but …. hmmm the pinot gris, I think.
But take some consolation – yes whilst you need to keep all brain cells functioning at full throttle Judith is only sixty-five minutes long – so it is fast and the dialogue is complex but its short.
It’s impossible to watch the machinations on the stage and not be reminded of what is happening in the Middle East today. Whilst the left would enjoy the idea that by killing the tyrant, Judith/Israel becomes the tyrant they would not like the fact, clearly established in the play, that had Judith/Israel not killed the tyrant she/Israel would have been ….. well pushed into the sea to borrow a phrase from few Middle Eastern fellows whose names escape me. I guess this is how Barker manages to offend both the left and the right …. it’s all very clever really.
Judith, by Howard Barker, is on at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre from October 18 – November 6.