Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Possibilities

Howard Barker
Red Line Productions
Tristan Bates Theatre
(2011)

The Possibilities production photo

An enthusiastic young cast gather in the intimate space of the Tistan Bates Theatre to explore the themes of war, violence, repression and revenge through Howard Barker's 1986 play, The Possibilities. Broken into ten separate vignettes, Barker's work, a prime example of his 'Theatre of Catastrophe', encompasses settings from Bethulia in 550BC to a totalitarian state in the near future, all the while investigating the dark, dangerous side of the human condition.

'War is the terrorism of the rich' reads one placard, held by an activist upstage as the lights come up. The setting is one of weathered stone walls and dusty floors, flexible enough to evoke everything from an Eastern street, to a kitchen and even an emperor's tent. The actors move the minimal props about the stage with ease, creatively introducing each segment in a different style - whether projecting it onto a white sheet/wall, turning a placard to reveal the words or chanting its title in unison.

Our first setting is 'The weaver's ecstasy at the discovery of new colour'. Other segments include 'The unforeseen consequences of a patriotic act', 'The necessity for prostitution in advanced society' and 'She sees the argument but '. Each has its own style and message, although some are certainly more effective than others.

The East/West culture clash informs some scenes, while sexual repression, revenge, torture and terrorism all rear their ugly heads at various points during the evening. Some are abrupt and intense; others melodramatic with a few strangely pitched in an attempt to evoke a slightly forced style of comedy.

While there's no doubt these actors (mostly graduates of The Actors Centre) are 100 per cent committed, occasionally their creations bleed into caricature. Too often gestures and intonations are sourced from the blatantly obvious, with the subtleties of the script thrown away in overly-transparent exchanges.

A few comedy attempts stick - a bookseller struggling to make a living in an oppressed society is amusing but ultimately without bearing, while Rafid Golby's attentive soldier brings a comfortable level of comedy to one of the more impactful segments.

Elsewhere screaming offers the main route to dramatic climax, with emotions thrown out so forcedly they loose the desired effect, while affectation is the go-to style, leaving some performances struggling with the subtleties the subject matter demands.

However, the staging is impressive. At one point red material is dragged across the floor to symbolise the increasing bloodshed on the streets, and characters make unexpected entrances and exits from beside, behind and within the audience, engulfing us as completely as the space will allow.

While the individual segments loose impact, feeling disjointed and muddled in their messages, director Matthew Parker makes effective use of music and choreography to maintain some kind of rhythm. Rousing music awakens a much-needed feeling of crusade, but expressive dance is Parker's true hidden weapon here. Characters repeat movements that portray various aspects of violence and oppression - a truly captivating display that helps make the impression other aspects of the production lack.

Ambitious and promising in places, The Possibilities is certainly full of them, but the production as a whole is ultimately too fragmented in style and message to make the impression the material deserves.

"The Possibilities" runs until 19th November

Reviewer: Kat Halstead