Howard Barker’s Scenes from an Execution will be running at the Baxter Theatre until 22 April, starring the brilliant Jennifer Steyn, Graham Hopkins and Nicky Rebelo.
The play was first seen in South Africa at the Market Theatre in 1994 where it garnered multiple awards including the best director for Clare Stopford. Graham Hopkins, who takes up his role as the Doge again nearly 25 years later, also clinched an award.
Jennifer Steyn, who was nominated for two Fleur du Cap awards for performances in A Doll’s House and The Inconvenience of Wings last year, plays the fictitious character Galactia, a talented painter who has been commissioned the state of Venice to recreate the Battle of Lepanto, fought between Christians and Muslims in 1571.
Galactia, a fierce, stubborn and passionate artist refuses to paint the battle as a “triumph” of Venician history and instead creates a gigantic portrayal of destruction, death and brutality. This, of course, is not what the state has in mind, looking rather for a piece celebrating the tactical brilliance of the naval officers, the bravery of the marines and the ultimate victory of Venice.
Steyn is a force in this play. Her character is brilliant but vain, with a severe, fervent determination that borders on blind arrogance. She insists that she is showing the truth, and that the state wants her to paint a lie. And yet as audience member you are constantly asked whether she is right to stand her ground so stubbornly, or whether she should admit that her way of seeing the world is one sided. Galactia is politically naive and has never experienced a battle herself so she is painting this scene from imagination; what she thinks a clash like this one would have entailed. She paints based on stories, but only the stories she chooses to listen to.
The Doge, played by Hopkins, is an equally wonderful, comical and complex character and a perfect opposite for Galactia. He is a generous patron of the arts and a keen supporter of Galactia’s talent, but at a time of political and social instability, he also needs to send a powerful message of confidence and strength to the people. With the critic Rivera (Elizabeth Akudugu) by his side, he needs to assert control over his transgressive artist or face being overthrown.
It is a wonderful work that brings up questions around the moral responsibility of an artist alongside concepts of truth, history, freedom, and integrity. The text alone is filled with beautiful, poetic language that is brought to life by a stellar cast.
Director Clare Stopford guided Steyn, along with Graham Hopkins (The Mother, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood) and Nicky Rebelo (West Side Story, The Kreutzer Sonata) and a dynamic ensemble of young actors Khathushelo Ramabulana (Black Dog/ Inj`emnyama, Letters To Madiba), Cleo Raatus (The Fall, District Six Kanala), Elizabeth Akudugu (Twelfth Night, Have you Seen Zandile?), Phoebe Ritchie (Cincinnati, The Seagull) and Lauren Blackwell (Girl in The Yellow Dress, Cincinatti).
Scenes from an Execution opened on 4 April and runs until 22 April at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday, 1 April at 2.30pm. Ticket prices are R130 (previews and matinees), R140 (Mondays to Thursdays) and R160 (Fridays and Saturdays).