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Howard Barker's Theatre: Wrestling with Catastrophe

edited by James Reynolds , Andy W. Smith , Enoch Brater and Mark Taylor-Batty

DOI: 10.5040/9781408185988

ISBN: 9781408184394

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Howard Barker and The Wrestling School have been seen as marginal to the major concerns of British theatre, problematic in their staging and challenging in the ideas they explore. Yet Barker's writing career spans six decades, he is the only living writer to have been accorded an entire season with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and The Wrestling School produces theatre of such a striking quality that it earned continuous Arts Council funding for nearly 20 years.

Wrestling with Catastrophe challenges existing ways of reading Barker's theatre practice and plays and provides new ways into his work. It brings together conversations with theatre makers from in and outside The Wrestling School, with first-hand accounts of the company's practice, and a selection of critical readings. The book's combining of testimony from key Wrestling School practitioners with alternative practical perspectives, and with analysis by both established and emerging scholars, ensures that a spectrum of understanding emerges that is rich in both breadth and depth.

In its consideration of the full range of Barker's aesthetic concerns – including text, direction, design, acting, narrative form, poetry, appropriation, painting, photography, electronic media, technology, puppetry, and theatre space – the volume makes a radical re-evaluation of Barker's theatre possible.

'The work of British playwright, director, painter, and photographer Howard Barker (b. 1946) is not well known in the US, although this eclectic but richly rewarding volume makes apparent it should be. Indeed, Barker's drama and the loosely affiliated group dedicated to producing it since 1986, the Wrestling School, are arguably marginal even in their native Britain. For this one can blame both Barker's eccentric, polyphonous, resistant, emphatically anti-naturalistic texts (which, as the editors are quick to assure the reader, are 'different' rather than difficult) and his uncompromising dedication to an alternative discipline of theater, which he has unfolded in a series of commentaries dedicated to the 'theatre of catastrophe.' Here, in an interview published as 'On Discipline,' Barker remarks: 'My intense concern is that the experience of the play is not diluted by weak practices.' The book comprises three complementary sections: 'Howard Barker and the Wrestling School' offers essays and interviews with Barker and some of the regular actors and directors associated with the Wrestling School over three decades; 'Readings/Inversions' provides scholarly considerations of Barker's work in relation to 'new writing,' spirituality, and visuality; and 'Other Barkers' offers essays scanning particular productions and approaches. Reynolds and Smith make a strong case for (re)discovering Barker's important oeuvre. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.' CHOICE