At just 55 minutes Howard Barker’s Judith: A Parting From The Body is a stark, brutal piece of stage poetry from the pen of a writer who, like so many that the Cock Tavern champions, is shockingly under-performed.
There’s a degree of virility about Robyn Winfield-Smith’s production but it doesn’t quite rise to the text’s challenges. Based on the biblical legend of Judith and Holofernes, the play has something of the emotional breadth of the Greeks and it’s a lot for the actors to handle.
As the runt turned general, Liam Smith lacks the callousness of a warrior seemingly immune to the suffering of war. He’s too much the philosopher, too little the murderer and an element of masculine swagger would give his confession of a fearful childhood greater impact.
As the Widow of Israel, who seduces the Assyrian general in order to avert the threat of defeat, growing from reluctant whore to arrogant victor, Catherine Cusack doesn’t quite convince and Emmeline Prior overdoes the knowing earnestness of the mysteriously eloquent servant. Key moments — the beheading of Holofernes, the attempted copulation with the corpse and the servant’s humiliation — are slightly fudged.
But given the difficulties of Barker’s high-flown concepts, the evening is good enough and the text is certainly intriguing and oddly seductive, making this a worthwhile outing. Winfield-Smith shapes the piece well and is working within an interesting environment she designs herself. And it’s good to see Barker’s play performed outside the boundaries of the Wrestling School, the company devoted to his work and theory.
- Simon Thomas