In the Bible, Lot’s wife takes a last look back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt. In Howard Barker's short sharp minor shocker of a play - receiving a UK premiere in a confident, deluxe-looking production by Robyn Winfield-Smith - she dallies with a dissolute chap called Drogheda and changes her shoes.
The flight from the city seems deliberately ambiguous, as there is no hint of destruction beyond the chaos that is already enveloping the café where the action takes place and where the chief tragic victim is a tremulous blind and dumb waiter who stays behind.
In a play text postscript, Barker talks about ancient narratives rising like ghosts to mock our moral platitudes, and there’s something stubbornly heroic about the way he continues to re-cast Biblical and mythical stories in a modern, but also timeless, context.
In this instance, though, it’s hard to extrapolate any pressing new meaning to the story other than that Drogheda - a good Irish place name for Justin Avoth’s disgusted celestial messenger - is seducing Lot’s wife, here called Sverdlosk, and does so with the full compliance of Lot, who’s not a bad Lot, but a book-loving medievalist.
Fotini Dimou has designed an abstract black space with some apocalyptic, rumbling sound effects by Gregory Clarke and some evocatively eerie lighting by Peter Mumford, and she dresses Hermione Gulliford as Sverdlosk in ecclesiastical purple from top to toe; she resembles a good-time girl from the 1940s.
Next to Drogheda and his wife, kissing and canoodling in dark corners, Mark Tandy's Lot is not a happy one, though you’re never likely to get a quick burst of Gilbert and Sullivan in Barker; instead, he goes along quite happily with developments.
Sverdlosk rather labours the point that Drogheda has entered her big time, then she throws her things in a bag and allows Lot to lead her away. The waiter, played with a commendable, terrified blankness by Vincent Enderby, is left alone with the washing up.