Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Found In the Ground

Howard Barker
The Wrestling School
Riverside Studios
(2009)

Production photo

Howard Barker is a writer whose plays are probably better suited to a thesis than a mere theatre review.

Found in the Ground, produced by The Wrestling School, which turns 21 this year, might be viewed as the stage equivalent to a cubist painting. It takes a couple of major concepts, pulls them apart and then for a couple of hours looks at the result from unusual perspectives.

The central character is Gerrard McArthur's terminally ill, wheelchair-bound Lord Toonelhuis. He is a former Judge who convicted numerous Nazis at Nuremburg but is now reduced to remembering the days of his pomp and enjoying sordid little sexual fantasies.

These are represented on stage most graphically by the faceless Macedonia played by Vanessa-Faye Stanley. She spends the duration crossing the stage wearing nothing but a suspender girdle and silver stilettos. This faceless woman is also a link to the camps, with occasional cries to the heavens about Anne Frank and others lost to Hitler's experimentation.

The drama, such as it is, has a number of sources. His Lordship's daughter, Suzy Cooper as Burgteata, is sexually free with a manservant, a boy librarian and eventually, an art-loving Adolf Hitler, Alan Cox looking the part.

The Nazi horrors are first symbolised by the burning of the Toonelhuis Library, an extensive collection that we witness disappearing alphabetically. There is also a bouncing, silver-faced executioner, Julia Tarnoky cross-dressing as Knox.

Four sexy, regimented nurses complete the human line-up playing their collective part in feeding the old man and acting as chorus.

There are three supplementary players, wooden attack dogs that look fantastic, rather like low budget cousins of the figures in War Horse and reflect great credit on their creator Keith Newstead, who rejoices in the splendid title of Dog Automata Maker.

Howard Barker, who directs with the greatest precision, obviously has his own ideas about the purpose and meaning of Found in the Ground. Viewers are left to decide for themselves and interpret his symbolism as best they can.

What is indisputable is that the play is striking, strangely watchable and leaves one reflecting once more on the horrors of the Holocaust.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher