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Howard Barker (born June 28, 1946) is a Britishmarker playwright.

The Theatre of Catastrophe

Barker has coined the term "Theatre of Catastrophe" to describe his work . His plays often explore violence, sexuality, the desire for power, and human motivation.

Rejecting the widespread notion that an audience should share a single response to the events onstage, Barker works to fragment response, forcing each viewer to wrestle with the play alone . "We must overcome the urge to do things in unison" he writes. "To chant together, to hum banal tunes together, is not collectivity." Where other playwrights might clarify a scene, Barker seeks to render it more complex, ambiguous, and unstable .

Opposing the predominance of comedy in the contemporary culture, which unifies us through the banality of a shared response, he argues for the rebirth of a tragic theatre, which will force us to recognize our differences . Only through a tragic renaissance, Barker argues, will beauty and poetry return to the stage. "Tragedy liberates language from banality" he asserts. "It returns poetry to speech."


Barker frequently turns to historical events for inspiration. His play Scenes from an Execution, for example, centers on the aftermath of the Battle of Lepantomarker (1571) and a fictional female artist commissioned to create a commemorative painting of the Venetianmarker victory over the Ottoman fleet. Scenes from an Execution, originally written for Radio 3 and starring Glenda Jackson in 1986, was later adapted for the stage. The short play Judith revolves around the Biblical story of Judith, the legendary heroine who decapitated the invading general Holofernes.

In other plays, Barker has fashioned responses to famous literary works. Brutopia is a challenge to Thomas More's Utopia. Minna is a sardonic work inspired by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Enlightenment comedy, Minna von Barnhelm. In Uncle Vanya, he poses an alternative vision to Anton Chekhov's drama of the same name. For Barker, Chekhov is a playwright of bad faith, a writer who encourages us to sentimentalize our own weaknesses and glamorize inertia. Beneath Chekhov's celebrated compassion, Barker argues, lies contempt. In his play, Barker has Chekhov walk into Vanya's world and express his disdain for him. "Vanya, I have such a withering knowledge of your soul," says the Russian playwright. "Its pitiful dimensions. It is smaller than an aspirin that fizzles in a glass. . ." But Chekhov dies, and Vanya finds the resoluteness to stride out of the confines of his creator's world.

Barker's protagonists are conflicted, often perverse, and their motivations appear enigmatic. In A Hard Heart, Riddler, described by the playwright as "A Woman of Originality" is called upon to use her considerable brilliance in fortifications and tactics to save her besieged city. But each choice she makes seems to render the city more vulnerable to attack, but that outcome seems to exhilarate rather than upset her. "My mind was engine-like in its perfection" she exults in the midst of destruction. Barker's heroes are drawn into the heart of the paradoxical, fascinated by contradiction.


Though he is relatively unknown in his own country, Barker's works have earned him a sizable following on the European mainland where his plays get more lavish productions, and many of his plays have been translated into various languages.

In Britain, Howard Barker formed "The Wrestling School" Company in 1988 to produce the author's seldom-performed plays in his native country.

There has been a small flurry of productions of Barker's plays on the London Fringe since 2007, some non-Wrestling school productions which seems to fare better critically. Notably Victory and Scenes from An Execution received acclaimed productions at the Arcola and the Hackney Empire respectively.


Stage Plays

  • Cheek (1970)
  • No One Was Saved (1970)
  • Bang
  • Edward - the Final Days (1972)
  • Alpha Alpha (1972)
  • Rule Britannia (1973)
  • My Sister and I (1973)
  • Claw (1975)
  • Stripwell (1975)
  • Wax (1976)
  • Fair Slaughter (1977)
  • That Good Between Us (1977)
  • Birth on a Hard Shoulder (1977)
  • Downchild (1977)
  • The Hang of the Gaol (1978)
  • The Love of a Good Man (1978)
  • The Loud Boy's Life (1980)
  • Crimes in Hot Countries (1980) (also performed as Twice Dead)
  • No End of Blame (1981)
  • The Poor Man's Friend (1981)
  • The Power of the Dog (1981)
  • Victory (1983)
  • A Passion in Six Days (1983)
  • The Castle (1985)
  • Women Beware Women, adaptation of Thomas Middleton (1986)
  • The Possibilities (1986)
  • The Bite of the Night (1986)
  • The Europeans (1987)
  • The Last Supper (1988)
  • Rome (1989)
  • Seven Lears(1989)
  • Golgo (1989)
  • (Uncle) Vanya, adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (1991)
  • Ten Dilemas in the Life of a God (1992)
  • Judith (1992)
  • Ego in Arcadia (1992)
  • A Hard Heart (1992)
  • Minna, adaptation of Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm (1993)
  • All He Fears, for marionettes (1993)
  • The Early Hours of a Reviled Man
  • Stalingrad
  • 12 Encounters with a Prodigy
  • The Twelfth Battle of Isonzo
  • Found in the Ground
  • The Swing at Night
  • Knowledge and a Girl
  • Hated Nightfall and Wounds to the Face (1995)
  • The Gaoler's Ache for the Nearly Dead (1997)
  • Ursula; Fear of the Estuary (1998)
  • Und (1999)
  • The Ecstatic Bible (2000) Prizewinner Adelaide International Festival co-production Brink Theatre (SA) and Wrestling School
  • He Stumbled (2000)
  • A House of Correction (2001)
  • Gertrude - The Cry (2002)
  • 13 Objects and Summer School (2003)
  • Dead Hands (2004)
  • The Fence In Its Thousandth Year (2005)
  • The Seduction of Almighty God by the Boy Priest Loftus in the Abbey of Calcetto, 1539 (2006)
  • Christ's Dog (2006)
  • I Saw Myself (2008)
  • The Dying of Today (2008)

Radio Plays

  • One afternoon on the 63rd level of the north face of the pyramid of Cheops the Great (1970)
  • Henry V in two parts (1971)
  • Herman, with Mille and Mick (1972)
  • Scenes from an Execution (1984)
  • Albertina
  • The Quick And The Dead, Radio 3 (2004)
  • The Road, The House, The Road (2006) broadcast on Radio 4 to commemorate his sixtieth birthday.
  • Let Me (2006) broadcast to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Third Programme (Radio 3)

Television Plays

  • Cows (1972)
  • Mutinies (1974)
  • The Chauffeur and the Lady (1974)
  • Prowling Offensive (1975) (not transmitted)
  • Conrod
  • Heroes of Labour (1976)
  • All Bleeding (1976) (not produced)
  • Credentials of a Sympathiser (1976)
  • Russia (1977) (not produced)
  • Heaven (1978) (not produced)
  • Pity in History (1984)
  • The Blow, film (1985)
  • Brutopia (1989)

Other Writings

Barker has also authored several volumes of poetry (Don't Exaggerate, The Breath of the Crowd, Gary the Thief, Lullabies for the Impatient, The Ascent of Monte Grappa, and The Tortman Diaries), an opera (Terrible Mouth with music by Nigel Osborne), and three collections of writings on the theatre (Arguments for a Theatre, Death, The One and The Art of Theatre and A Style And Its Origins).


External links

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