THE key is in the subtitle. Howard Barker’s great 1983 play is called Victory: Choices In Reaction and it tells the tale of what happens when a great, idealistic revolution fails, and people are forced to adapt to a world turned to savagery.
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Barker’s genius, though, is to place this story in England, in 1660, at the end of his country’s revolution. It’s this collision between Barker’s radical vision and the stuff of English costume history that gives the play its mind-shifting power. When the concept is fleshed out in Barker’s superb, ferocious stage poetry – full of obscenity, beauty and truth – then you have what is probably the greatest English play of the last half-century.
It’s an understatement to say that Victory is not an easy choice for the students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, but in Hugh Hodgart and Mark Stevenson’s careful, perfectly detailed production, the play glows like a great, rough jewel, illuminated by fine performances, not least from a magnificent Paksie Vernon as the widow Bradshaw – once wife of England’s greatest revolutionary thinker – and from a heartbreaking Alasdair James as Bradshaw’s ex-Cavalier admirer, Ball.
Designer Sophie Martin creates a great open stage over which the bodies of the defeated hang in sacks; Christoph Wagner’s lighting shifts us beautifully through Bradshaw’s strange journey across England, in search of her husband’s battered remains. And in its greatest moments, Barker’s play leaps with genius and offers an unforgettable insight into the story of a country once bitten by a dream of an egalitarian future, and now still more than twice shy.