13 Objects

Howard Barker
The Wresting School at the Riverside Studios
(2003)

13 Objects finds Howard Barker, never a man to make life easy for audiences, at his most obscure. It resembles a book of short stories with little in common but some themes running throughout.

It is subtitled Studies in Servitude which gives a small clue as to the intentions of the playwright and his production company, The Wrestling School. As Barker says in his programme notes, "We are enslaved by our hopes". To explore this theme, he uses mundane objects to assist reflection on our existence.

In front of a corrugated iron wall with a strange contraption balancing a photo of three actors against three objects, thirteen scenes are played out by five well-drilled actors. They use heightened language and Barker has directed their movements and speech in a very non-naturalistic style that smacks of ritual.

The subject matter often comes back to death, even for a tyrannical baby that demands "my rattle or die".

Most of the pieces contain only one or two actors and a black humour often emerges, for example in a scene about a priggish photographer or a reluctant war hero. The overall impression is that, for Barker, life is far from sweet and is defined more than anything else by gloom and death.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher