Review: The audience dividing Scenes from an Execution
Fell a little bit in love with Fiona Shaw's character Galactia on Friday night. OK so she's sharp and honest to the point of tactlessness at times but I admired her intelligence, unwavering and brave (some might say foolish) determinism and her freedom of spirit and physical being.
She's not to everyone's taste and neither is the play - two friends left at the interval - but I was rather taken. Galactia is an artist in renaissance Venice commissioned by the Doge (Tim McInnerny) to paint a depiction of the Battle of Lepanto in which the Venetians were victorious against the Turks but at great cost to life on both sides.
What the Doge has in mind is something that shows the glory of victory but Galactia, in the course of researching the battle, wants to present it as it was: a carnage that turned the sea red with spilt blood and gore and left hideous wounds.
Her undeniable artistic talent versus her unconventional life - her lover, the needy Carpeta (Jamie Ballard) is a less talented artist, married and younger - causes a lot of angst for her benefactor. His position is political and backing the wrong art, so to speak, could be damaging for his career.
Shaw's Galactia is full of creative energy, often feverishly sketching while talking to people. When she does sit still her posture is masculine, strong and comfortable with it.
We don't ever see what she is painting, the canvas is always hanging out of site from a carefully angled huge piece of wall, but her description - her first speech is about the bottoms of dead soldiers bobbing in the sea - and the reaction of those that see it bring it perfectly to the minds eye. So much so that when she unveils it to Carpeta, I almost gasped as he did such was the power of the Shaw's and Ballard's performances.
Much, I'm sure, will be made of Shaw's revealing dress - she wears a lose, knee-length smock which is split at the chest and Galactia cares little for what people see of her as she goes about her work. For me that was part of her appeal, the fact that she didn't care, she was completely comfortable in her own skin, her body and clothes beneath consideration, secondary to the task in hand.
This is simply but nonetheless dramatically staged. The Sketchbook (Gerrard McArthur) who is like a Greek chorus or narrator is often suspended in a white box above the stage. The huge, canvas hanging wall, a gauzy stage screen and some hydraulics in the second act the only wizardry.
To me Scenes from an Execution is about many things but not least creative truth and integrity, vanity and whether war is justified. If I was to grumble it would be that the second half feels a little more action-packed but I could have watched Fiona Shaw's Galactia all night.
It's getting five stars from me and as soon as Poly, who didn't walk out, has posted her review I'll add in a link so you have an alternative view.
Scenes from an Execution runs in rep at the Lyttleton Theatre until December 9.
Jamie Ballard was in ...some trace of her with Mr W.