Photos – Kate Williams
Putting the ink into think, Howard Barker’s No End of Blame is as powerful and poignant, perhaps even more so, today, as it was when written, nearly forty years ago. Freedom of speech, however unpalatable it is to despots and democrats alike, is a focal point in this epic sixty year sweep of history, art and geopolitical shape shifting.
The play begins on the slopes of a Carpathian mountain side in 1918. The Carpathians, home of the castle keep of the caped count of vampiric folk lore, whose corpuscular calorie intake seems anaemic compared to the catastrophic blood bath that was World War I.
Here, a semi naked woman, has been captured by a Hungarian soldier, Grigor, forced to pose at gunpoint, as he captures her on paper, sketching her posterior for posterity. His brother in arms and art, Bela, wants to kiss her, a romantic euphemism for raping her. Meet our protagonist, a predator with a poetic soul.
Surviving the war, Bela goes to Russia to continue his studies in art, but finds painting pointless, finding the immediacy of the cartoon contemporary, cutting, and concise.
It's a “I ink, therefore I am” moment and catapults him into a career that brings both popular acclaim and political antagonism, posing the question, what is the purpose of art? And so the conflict between the public good and artistic purity is canvassed and the abstract values of truth taken between the teeth, tussled, mauled, ravaged in a rollicking, robust cut and thrust piece of theatre.
Lusty, athletic, vital, No End of Blame gives the English vocabulary and vernacular a vigorous workout, as it deals with powerful and potent ideas and personalities.
There’s no end of blame for director Damien Ryan. Blame him for marshalling and coalescing a coruscating ensemble of precision performers. If this cast were a football team, a premiership would be a fait accompli. Here is a team, a troupe, whose facility with speech and stage craft is scintillating,
Captained by Akos Armont as Bela, this phalanx of players create a virtually seamless entity of engaging entertainment, a harmony of hefty, heady, harrowing and haunting characterisation and imagery, images and the performances that take root in the mind very quickly, and linger long after the play's finale.
Sam O’Sullivan, Angela Bauer, Amy Usherwood, Danielle King, Lizzie Schebesta, Bryce Youngman and Monroe Reimers make up this exemplary ensemble, imbuing it with a palpable esprit de corps, creating one of the nonpareil productions to grace the Sydney stage this year.
This production also contains original cartoons drawn by two of Australia’s great political cartoonists as well as drawings as well as drawings by Archibald prize winning artist, Nicholas Harding.
Melanie Liertz design of raked stage and sails of canvas suggest life is always meant to be easel, pitched, askew, sloped, inclined to aspire and to fall, the troughs and peaks of existence. Technical production values are first class with lighting by Fausto Brusamolino and sound by Alistair Wallace.
Like all of Howard Barker's plays, No End of Blame is a play to be experienced rather than explained. Powerful, honest and transfixing it is an epic theatrical exhibition well executed in an intimate environment.
To miss it will cause no end of blame.
Sport for Jove presents
No End of Blame
by Howard Barker
Directed by Damien Ryan
Venue: Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
Dates: 12 – 28 October 2017