REVIEW by Willard Manus
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND--Written in 1980, when Margaret Thatcher was England's prime minister and avenging angel, VICTORY by Howard Barker was first performed at London's Royal Court Theatre in March, 1983, winning praise for its language, power and importance. Yet the play wasn't performed in Scotland until this year, largely because Barker was considered too difficult a playwright, too political, shocking and uncommercial.
Now the Royal Lyceum has righted this wrong in a production by Kenny Ireland that does justice to the work. Set in 1660 when Britain's brief experiment with Republicanism ends and the monarchy is restored with Charles II (Bob Barrett in a tour de force performnance) returning from France to a shattered, rudderless society, VICTORY comments in bawdy, savage fashion on the venality, stupidity and cynicism of the human race. Bradshaw (Kathryn Howden) is a woman whose husband was a follower of Oliver Cromwell, head of the abortive republic who failed the cause of democracy with his Taliban-like restrictions against singing, dancing and free speech. Bradshaw's husband was drawn and quartered for his beliefs, leaving her to fend, Mother Courage-like, for survival in a world dominated by bloodthirsty monarchs, greedy bankers and demented peasants.
In Barker's view, one regime is as bad as the next, whether left or right, and he delivers this bleak message in uncompromising fashion, wielding language like a dagger. Victory is a social drama but it neither preaches nor treats the audience with condescension.
Forthcoming productions at the Lyceum include PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD by J.M. Synge (7-28 Sept); SUNSET SONG by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, adapted by Alastair Cording (1-19 October); and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW by Shakespeare (26 Oct-10 November). For further information call 0131-248-4848 or visit www.lyceum.org.uk