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A Conversation with Howard Barker about Things on the Stage1

É. Angek-Perez, Howard Barker, Alexandra Poulain, S. Hatchuel, M. De Block, V. Khamphommala, F. Gallix, P. Buse et C. Finburgh

Notes de l’auteur

Transcript: Magali De Block.
This interview took place at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4), on Oct. 12 2007. Howard Baker was the key-note speaker of the “Things on the stage” International conference, co-organized by Texte et Critique du Texte (VALE-EA4085) and by Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines.

Texte intégral

É. Angel-Perez: It is a very great honour to introduce Howard Barker whose contribution to the theatre and to the world of theatre, both as a writer and as a stage director, has drastically changed our vision of contemporary drama and theatre.
Thank you very much, Howard Barker, for being with us. As you know our conference focuses on things and/or objects and you have written a number of plays in which objects do play a prominent part. Could you explain why objects are of an interest to your theatre.

Howard Barker: Well, there’s a paradox about the objects in theatre (and it doesn’t for example apply to films), which is simply that the object is small. I’ll be speaking as a writer and perhaps mostly as a director of plays: the object very often tends to be a small object and therefore to use it in a scene is problematic because, quite simply, the audience cannot always see what is handled. For the making of a film, you would of course use a close-up so you could see the value given the object in the way the object is handled by the actor and therefore, it would enable it to have a life of its own. It’s much harder to achieve this on stage.
There’s a declining fascination with the object because it’s not visible enough. That’s a practical problem.

Alexandra Poulain: How do you resolve the problem of the visibility or absence of visibility of the object on the stage? Are there specific strategies in the writing, in the acting?

Howard Barker: Well, I think it’s a particular problem to big theatres for obvious reasons. I don’t often direct plays in big theatres, I tend to do studio shows where the visibility problem is less important. But quite simply, I suppose, on a big stage the strategy would be to direct the eye of the audience to the object by planning the moves and an effect of lighting on the object. For instance, if the thing had huge iconic significance, I would expect the lighting designer to isolate it. But it becomes a problem, a considerable problem on a big stage. I don’t think, for example, that 13 Objects would work anything like as well on the main stage of the Odeon as it would in a studio.

S. Hatchuel: Regarding the stage of the theatre itself or the playing area as objects, when you start writing a play do you have in mind a particular kind of stage: a big venue, an intimate space, a circular stage… or not at all?

Howard Barker: I have to say I’ve clung to my naivety over the years in thinking that these plays should happen on big stages. I think of the spaces as having no edges and on very rare occasions in my career I’ve worked in places where normally you’re not supposed to do that, I’m thinking of the castle of Elsinore where we played Gertrude or factories and so on. Places where it was possible for the characters to emerge into the light from the dark which is something that maybe originates from the etchings of Goya where dark and light make an important chiaroscuro effect. I suppose in my mind I’ve always imagined the significance of light playing on an actor, on the actor being able to move around in that light, and when I direct plays the lighting is very important. So I very rarely think of a small space and I don’t think of a theatre as such, but I think of a big playing area. I would prefer not to play in theatres at all because the theatres have been annexed by the bourgeois and commercial sphere. The foyer is a very destructive place. In the foyer people talk about their cars and their holidays…
You’ve observed objects appear a lot in my work but it’s not actually because I’m that much fascinated by objects. The human body is vastly more important than any accoutrements or any items attached to it. Speaking as a writer, the beauty of the theatre is the body and the space, and how the body moves in this space and how the body is related to other bodies. But within a more general sense, human beings living in the world, objects carry with them associations obviously but in a sense, they are a surface—a seductive surface on which social neurosis and individual psychology operate. The character projects onto objects values and indeed negativities that wouldn’t necessarily be discovered in a normal exchange between living personalities.
They’re also, I think, essentially unfaithful—there’s a decay concerning the moral value of objects. Let’s take 13 Objects: there’s one piece about a painting by Holbein, in which a grotesquely rich character collects pictures and comes home with his unique Holbein portrait, and though he loves it—he adores the beauty of the object and its uniqueness –, he decides to set light to it and to destroy it, which is an agony but at the same time a triumph for him. He regards this unique work of art as entirely corrupted by the social system which has put value on the painting. Although he is a millionaire, he despises the concept of value and it gives him, I suppose, a transgressive triumph to destroy something society places so much value on.
I think what made me write that piece was listening to the BBC reporting the latest sale at Sotheby’s of an impressionist painting which was discussed only in terms of its value. So the character decides simply to transgress that kind of reification of a work of art by destroying it. It is an example of what I’m saying: the object exists in its own right but something is laid upon it and the object decays, there’s a decay attached to it. Similarly with a soldier’s medal (another one of the 13 Objects). The medal is awarded to the soldier apparently for his bravery, and therefore it has a meaning at that moment. But it immediately begins to decay in a way an object literally decays. It decays morally at the same time. And other people who handle or see the medal reinterpret it for other ends, so one likes the object because it appears not to be plastic. The meanings we attach to objects alters their status continually.
My work is driven by two moral forces, one is coercion, the other is decay–those are the two rules of life as far as my work is concerned and the decay is attached both to people’s ideals but also to the meanings of objects.

É. Angel-Perez: In one of your plays, Knowledge and a Girl, we have the impression that the metonymic object defines both the function and the status of the character: “what is a Queen without her shoes?” is the question asked. And shoes are one of the most frequently used props in your plays.

Howard Barker: Yes, well, there are shoes and shoes, of course. The high heel shoe is what you’re talking about. The high heel shoe has, I suggest, an investment of 600 years of European culture behind it. I can’t think of many easily obtained objects, that you could buy in the street, that have been invested so seriously for 600 years and which have developed form after form whilst retaining the whole idea of lifting the woman’s body. I was reading recently about the court of Dionysius in Syracuse in the 4th century BC. This corrupt dictator of Syracuse forced the servants of his household to wear one high-heel shoe. This is a very great subtlety of eroticism because if you’re wearing one high heel shoe, it forces your hips to move in a certain way, which has a huge erotic value. It also of course endows the person wearing it with a certain state.
Talking about the Queen, wearing those shoes meant having to look both higher than everybody else and to manoeuvre her body in certain ways.

É. Angel-Perez: You’ve written about seventy plays, several collections of poems, two important volumes of theatre theory, but you’re also a wonderful painter. In your paintings, you do use a number of recurring objects like tables or trays and I was wondering how this relates to the use you make of objects and things in your plays. Is there a link at all?

Howard Barker: I find it terribly difficult to talk about that but I’ll try.
I have a great liking for white sheets, for example. But there’s a personal origin for that. My family and the women of my family were laundresses. So I saw a lot of sheets as a child.
There’s also a great beauty in the white sheet—a laundered sheet is strangely disturbing in the milieu of the theatre because, I don’t know how many of you have worked practically in the theatre, the theatre is a very dirty place. It’s dirty, there’s dirt and dust everywhere and when actors come to rehearsal they come in dirty clothes, and I always say to actors “No, would you please try to wear nice clothes in rehearsals because it changes the milieu”. So if you use pristine sheets as part of the setting design it produces a shock. It’s an enchanting visual image. It’s also cheap, which is a very important consideration in theatre as I work in it. Sheets are cheap!

M. De Block: Talking of the importance of sheets in your work, I noticed handkerchiefs were also quite present in your plays… how important are they in your work, do you see them as a reduced image of sheets?

Howard Barker: It’s also in Chekhov, I think, “Madam you’ve dropped your handkerchief. Here it is.” So it’s a seduction device. If a handkerchief is removed from a pocket it has a small explosive effect. These details are important in productions.

É. Angel-Perez: In your production of Gertrude, The Cry at the Riverside Studios, you did use quite a good number of sheets…

Howard Barker: Yes, I did. I also did in a production of He Stumbled.
The whole business of laundering, washing, and arranging sheets, which people don’t do much anymore, has a great historic function. And it’s interesting visually, it is an action. If you have a sheet, you have to perform an action with it. It’s in many ways more interesting than a gun. A gun is a cliché in theatre.

É. Angel-Perez: Shoes, handkerchiefs and sheets—things that are related to the human body, obviously. So, what’s behind objects in your theatre is the human body.

Howard Barker: Yes, there are other plays you mentioned. A one-woman play, I’m thinking, Und. There’s a Jewish woman who is waiting for the visit of a German officer and pretends she’s giving a tea party for the German officer and he never appears, but things keep entering her world and these things are flying on trays. In production, the trays were flying on mechanical swings and on each tray, kept in a proper horizontal line, is an object which, for her, has a meaning which you can’t always work out. It could be a heap of earth, some flowers, a pen, all sorts of things. So, her consciousness is continually being shaken by the appearance of an object which has cultural significance.

É. Angel-Perez: “Cultural significance”?

Howard Barker: Yes. In her case, the pen is not just a pen. If she were to use the pen how would she use it to create an effect on the man who’s not present by a certain form of writing. What does the writing mean in such a form, and so on…
In “Cruel Cup Kind Saucer” (13 Objects), the cup is a coffee cup. When the scene is played, it’s not simply that the actress plays with the idea of holding a coffee cup but it’s the way in which she handles this object which is very significant because it has a spoon. And the way in which the actress should deal with the coffee cup and the spoon is extremely important: there’s a rhythm to handling of the object. She should stir it a number of times and put the spoon into the cup and when the spoon falls onto the saucer, there’s a certain sound that we all recognize. This gives a sort of discipline to the performance. So, the object can sometimes discipline the actor. The final object is the dead body because for me the living body is not an object. The dead body is a surface, a permissive surface. Because if we speak of necrophilia for a moment, one can endow the silent cadaver with meaning that no living body could possibly possess. It lends power to the observer.

É. Angel-Perez: Thinking of Judith (whose climax precisely revolves around a scene of necrophilia), for instance?

Howard Barker: I’m thinking of Judith, yes.

É. Angel-Perez: Talking of 13 objects, you have selected a number of objects that generate action, is that right?

Howard Barker: Or thought, thinking.

É. Angel-Perez: Or thinking. So objects are the departure point. You chose them for their suggestive power but also for their dynamic power…

V. Khamphommala: One of the objects you chose was a rattle which becomes a substitute for language in The Talk of a Toy, and since you’re also a poet, I wanted to ask you to what extent language could be compared to an object, or words be compared to objects as well.

Howard Barker: That’s a good question and a good example of how an object has a percussive, a sort of musical action which, in some way serves my language. I expect language to be performed in a way that respects the internal rhythms and the rhymes, which are inside those lines. I’m not sure whether this works in translation but in the English original, there’s a strong rhythm in that speech and in the way the shaking of the rattle commands attention—so speech delivered by actors in my work is a continued challenge to be heard. I’m not a naturalistic writer, so the actual speech is a deliberate act of the characters in order to provoke a response. Everything is a challenge, and I suppose the rattle is a challenge, to attract attention. So I’d say that it has a linguistic value.

É. Angel-Perez: In this respect, what about the way you organize words on the page?

Howard Barker: That commands a certain rhythm. The way in which speech is organized on the page is to direct the actor to some extent to obey the rhythms of the speech. It’s a suggestive device.

V. Khamphommala: When I was talking of the linguistic value, I was also thinking about the almost iconic value of words and their power to conjure up the image of the object. The first scene of 13 Objects deals with a spade and it acquires a second meaning… it seems to me that in your work the words are heavy with history so that they don’t just signify for themselves but they also signify a history that is hidden behind.

Howard Barker: I don’t disagree with what you’re saying.
I think most of my plays are very heavy with culture or history and not because they are set in historical periods or imaginary and mythical periods but they can only exist in that form because of my very powerful sense of being a European.
I suppose the spade is an example of that. But it’s also in a way about how the individual psyche plays with that very element. The play is about an officer playing with two prisoners whom he wishes to bury alive and then enjoy the spectacle of people dying. He watches them dig. So, he’s forever making ethical and personal judgements about the style of dying, so the spade becomes a matter of life and death because if they don’t dig properly, they will die. But what it is to dig properly is entirely in the officer’s mind. This is getting obscure, isn’t it…

F. Gallix: Keeping in mind what you said that objects are never innocent, have you found in your plays the fact that objects have different meanings according to the nationality of the audience, I mean you mentioned a cup of tea and stirring the spoon in the cup of tea… in an Arabian country, you drink tea and you never stir it. Have you come across some wrong interpretation of an object which was misunderstood because it was translated…

Howard Barker: That’s a very good point but the simple answer is no, I haven’t. That’s because my work is not so much performed outside Europe or America. There have been some Arabian productions of my work but I’m afraid I have not seen them but it reminds us of the idea of gesture… it’s the same thing, I suppose. I’m very interested in gesture on stage and I’m aware that as Europeans, we have a kind of repertoire of gestures most of which goes back probably to Rome and to Greece as well. One has to go to a museum of classical statues to realize that gestures used in classical times still continue in our own time. I suspect, however, if one went to Africa there would be a different set of gestures, that’s interesting. I’m very careful not to resort to gestures as such in my work.

V. Khamphommala: You said your relationship to objects was very much defined by the fact that you were a European, was it a major influence in your choice of objects because one of the things that struck me in 13 Objects is that there seems to be connections within the scene and yet at the same time your choice seems arbitrary. It seems that there is a subtle interplay between arbitrariness and causality. Is that possible and how did you choose these thirteen objects?

Howard Barker: I hope what you’re saying is true because it’s much more interesting if a text consists of both the arbitrary and the intentional. I think as I got to number 13, I was running out of objects… because I had selected the number 13 before I started. So I think as I got to ten I was starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find the other three. Inevitably in a piece of thirteen some are going to be more effective than others. The best one in my opinion is the camera. The mystery of the camera has been explored, mostly by French philosophers, but we know that the camera is an amazing and fascinating object, and so is the photograph. Because the boy speculates when the father gives him a camera as a present, he is continually looking the other way round to try and see what’s in the back of the camera. In a way, that’s quite a primitive reaction but he asks himself all the time what has this camera seen, what is the moral value of the experience of the camera, “Has it seen a football team?”, “Maybe it has.” “Has it seen a soldier who is about to be killed in a war? Has it seen an atrocity? Has it seen many endless families portrayed, and so on?” As an object, it has much more detritus inside it than many objects one could think of. We all know when a writer is inspired by something, he writes more fluently, and I think that’s the most fluent of them. I like cameras.

P. Buse: I saw He Stumbled a few years ago in Salford and what you said made me understand better your choice of the surgical instruments because of course they have a reflective value. It seems to me that there’s even an element of sadism in them because I remember being blinded quite often by reflections and “sonic” values—it almost sounded as though these objects had been chosen arbitrarily but they still retained their meaning within the story about a surgeon, but is that important?

Howard Barker: That’s a very good point. It’s again a decision made after I had written the piece. When I directed this piece, I tried to organize quite a simple but semi-surreal action between the actors, especially the opening section before the audience comes in and takes its seats. It is an action which is repetitive but also quite intriguing which I call “exordium” (in German “Vorspiel”). I had a surgeon’s assistant wash all these instruments (these scalpels and these surgeon knives) and she picked one, wiped it with a towel and threw it into the bucket, and underneath the bucket was a microphone. So not only were people performing the actions in various ways but she was creating this deliberate slightly sinister sound of a knife falling into a bucket. So, I think of these things at a later stage rather than before being written.

É. Angel-Perez: A question about literary objects like tales, legends, and myths and the way you manipulate them in your Theatre of Catastrophe whose aim is to create some kind of disruption from what is expected or dismissed? Can you say a few words about those literary objects that are so well codified…

Howard Barker: Because I also paint, I’ve always been interested in how contemporary artists and artists of all time always go back to the same subjects. There are certain themes which you would find in any provincial gallery in France or Britain, and one of these is Judith and Holofernes. There are thousands of versions of Judith and Holofernes painted between the 16th and the 20th century and somehow I’m drawn to do my version of this haunting story. I’ve also done it with myths (as Helen of Troy, and The Last Supper, but also canonic works such as Uncle Vanya or Mina Von Barnheim or Lear). I almost feel an obligation as an artist of my time to revisit some of the themes of the past as well as contributing new narratives of my own. In that sense I feel I’m both in a tradition and outside it. In retelling those stories I bring a whole different consciousness to the story, not entirely to shock people. To take Chekhov for example, the initial function degenerates or as time goes by is perceived differently. Uncle Vanya, as a text, is a major work of theatre. It is played continually and always, to me, with the same nauseating pleasure in impotence that lies somewhere in that productive process. It’s a celebration of failure. So I ask myself “What is the socio-political reason why Uncle Vanya has now become so significant in England at this particular moment?” It’s as if the culture has innovated but at the same time it is seductive and we all see the image of innovation as seduction and therefore we are all gratified by it. We all leave the theatre thinking “Uncle Vanya wanted to seduce Helena, he failed to seduce Helena, but that’s alright because seduction is such a hard job anyway.” And there’s a sort of decadence in that, so when I re- wrote it I wrote it from the moment in which Vanya, in Chekhov’s version, misses the professor. But in my version the bullet hits the professor which of course initiates one choice after another. So my version is action whereas I would say that Chekhov’s version is inactive. And mine is tragedy and his isn’t. That’s an example of how I might attack an existing property.

É. Angel-Perez: A word about the object of objects—the Bible in The Last Supper.

Howard Barker: As I got older, I’ve liked the Bible more. I suppose, as a subject of stories, a kind of reservoir of narratives.
I was always interested in why Jesus asked God to relieve him of the responsibility of his own mission and how he panics. It makes me convinced that Christ’s story is true because Christ panics and I think that’s very human. The humanity of Christ is simultaneously the failure of Christ.

É. Angel-Perez: In the earlier plays, Wounds to the Face for instance, plays that you wrote at the end of the 80’s along with all these texts that consecrated this new theatre–the Theatre of Catastrophe (The Last Supper, The Castle…)–, you came up with a disturbing amount of reified persons like the dead baby stuck in the back of Skinner in The Castle, how does that connect with the reification of human beings? Or does it at all? As a spectator, when I first saw Wounds to the Face, I was really struck by the incredible number of objects like the mirror which helped the human being to be reified somehow… In the Theatre of Catastrophe, is the object summoned so as to facilitate the reification of the human being?

Howard Barker: To come back to the culture of Europe, the actual destruction of the human body in the West has been so persistent–not having fought two huge wars in the last century but having wars constantly since the medieval period– the body becomes both a kind of sacred object in terms of its illustrative value, its pornographic value and so on. At the same time, the amount of sheer destruction of the body is drastic. Let’s take the example of Helen of Troy whose the body which according to the legend produced the Ten-Year-War but which is now perhaps regarded as a metaphor for something else because no one accepts primitive narratives except as metaphors. But I wanted to reverse that and say that yes indeed this body had been quite simply the cause of the war, the possession of a woman’s body justified a cultural conflict. But at the same time, it suggests this idea only because her body has reached a point of maturity and because its meaning has started to change. Sight, not of adoration, but of punishment. But the relics of that flesh nevertheless continue to exercise a strange and magical authority because even if Helen is reduced to a trunk and a head in this text, she’s still revered because she was a beautiful woman. Then she acquires the additional authority of someone who suffered because in Western culture, the suffering of the body is something immense, it’s almost religious: from Christ onwards, the body which suffers acquires this value and I was trying to put these two aspects together.

É. Angel-Perez: On the reification of the body, a question that is probably very often put to you about the nakedness of women. We’ve just had this paper (Claire Finburgh’s) on your Judith and there was this idea that having a woman naked on the stage was perhaps a way of turning her into a body or a body- thing, an object. So, I know you’re very often asked this type of questions about the nakedness of women but still…

Howard Barker: Let’s go back to the origin, I’ve been trying to intellectualise a lot what I do but in fact I work for the theatre, so let’s go back to basics… the theatre is a particular space in a dark room in which the human body moves around. To exclude the naked body from that space seems to me, in essence, a strange form of censorship, a meaningless form of censorship. On the other hand, there was a period in the English and in the French theatre now which has returned to an over-familiarity with the human body, it has almost become stereotypical. For me, it has a great value in creating a moment of shock but the body also speaks. The naked body which speaks and speaks in a poetic way about itself, I regard it as a very great moment of the theatrical experience. Not like in a film, this actor or actress is naked in front of you, she’s in light, intense light, you’re in the dark, you share none of her ordeal. I find it so purely theatrical I know nothing else like this in any other art form. Because that body is alive, it may be beautiful, it may not be beautiful but in either case it carries a huge status. It then describes itself, speaks about itself, in a particular tongue. I don’t know anyone who works as a dramatist who wouldn’t want to use those moments, to examine those moments. To be naked on stage is both to be vulnerable and to be powerful simultaneously. When we take our clothes off in front of somebody else, we are nervous. We experience anxiety and that anxiety, in the focus of the stage, becomes vastly increased. You then ask your actor to carry that nakedness with confidence but at the same time to bear the tension of it. She can’t merely be relaxed with her nakedness. I understand that in some classes you’re asked to be naked and relaxed but I’m saying no, don’t be relaxed otherwise it becomes a cliché, as though you’re in your bedroom on your own and it’s not the point. On the stage you suffer the gaze of another person and you suffer the gaze of the public. That tension must be there, it must be in the body. So you’re an object but at the same time you bear the anxiety of the public. For me, one of the great effects of tragedy as I write it, as I think of it, is that it should make you anxious. You should leave the auditorium anxious about your life, about their lives. It’s not a process of gratification, a process of repetition or a process of massage for your morality. You must leave tensed from what the actors have suffered for you. The actress suffers for the audience.

É. Angel-Perez: It means that your actors undergo some sort of sacrifice… Howard Barker: Yes, they’re sacrificed.

C. Finburgh: About nakedness: it strikes me that we have no problem at all seeing nakedness on the TV or in the cinema, we are desensitised to it, and I think one of the reasons for that, especially the female body, is that it is on the screen reduced to a sequence of objects because we never really see the whole of a woman’s body. We will see fetishised aspects of that body, generally the face, breasts or genitals. It strikes me that what can potentially be very powerful about nakedness in theatre, from the perspective of a woman, is that the audience is confronted with the whole of the woman’s body. I wondered if you’d agree with this idea of objectification of the female body…

Howard Barker: I suppose so because the presentation of the female body in pornography and in commercials tends to be stereotypical. As you say, certain zones of the body are selected for attention. But these are presumably erotic zones. Especially with the living body, one could create some serious psychic damage by reversing some of that, so you would see bits you’d normally not see. It could happen on film but it would be more powerful on stage because the body is alive.

É. Angel-Perez: With this question of anxiety and almost angst, we’re reaching the very heart of the Theatre of Catastrophe. One of the things that I’ve noticed in your theatre is that each time you use an object in your “catastrophist plays”, the use which is made of it is never conform to one’s expectancies…

Howard Barker: I’m not sure whether this is particular of my Theatre of Catastrophe, any artist who is worth his sort who would strain to avoid the cliché. He re- stimulates its deadliness.

É. Angel-Perez: Do you see any ethical value in objects?

Howard Barker: Maybe but I don’t think I’m an ethical person, so I don’t think in those terms. My plays have very little ethics. I don’t think of my projects as moral in the least. The theatre is a place where one need not be moral. The pleasure of marginalized theatre evades morals. My theatre company has almost been destroyed by the ethical judgement of the government, so ethics have continually attacked artists but particularly theatre artists in their space. The funding of English theatre is based on the moral judgement about the content, that’s what I call censorship and that’s where we are…

M. De Block: About the authority of things: Tin and Navy Blue in 13 Objects. On the one hand, Tin is about the usurpation of the medal as a way to assert the character’s poetic authority whereas Navy Blue has a contrapuntal approach because we don’t know to whom the shoes belong. I was wondering if objects could be a way to get rid of ethics and morals, and pushing further this idea if things could be a way to assert someone’s poetic authority and identity.

Howard Barker: The object is essentially neutral. Its meaning comes from the way the actors describe this object and how they manipulate it and how that contrasts or supports the social value of the object. The medal is a good example: the soldier is awarded a medal because he is said to have been brave, so it has a social value for all of us but the reinterpretation of that occurs when other characters within the scene deny that meaning, they choose to deny the meaning of the medal. It reverts to being a piece of tin. It is tin because it is emptied of its social value. But then the soldier finally comes back and says to the Old Woman “I’ll have it, after all” because even if the war was unjust and the king is a fool, nevertheless my action was extraordinary and I shall never repeat it in my life, and for that I should wear the medal. He reinvigorates the medal not from a social and political point of view but from a personal point of view. The medal then becomes the locus of the judgement of himself. In other words he personalizes and validates a corrupted symbol. In a very short scene (1 page) the meaning of the object changes three times.

V. Khamphommala: I wanted to go back to the idea of the atomised body and the whole body by comparing them to the alternation of plays in your work which are collections of smaller plays and plays that are full narratives. Could you explain the relationship between the two and how you alternate between the two.

Howard Barker: When I was very young, I tended to write very small pieces. And then, for some reason, I started to write three-act plays, I don’t really know why I did. Since then, I’ve always alternated between very long plays (four-or five-act plays) and collections of small pieces. One of the joys of small pieces, like Wounds to the Face, is that they have a sort of a musical form. I’m a great admirer of Bartok’s Six Strings Quartets, one of the most important modern European composers and the way in which themes are taken, distorted and played against themselves, dropped, lost, revived, and brought back in, dominate my whole approach to Wounds to the Face. On the one hand, pieces like that, whereas they accumulate meaning don’t normally generate intense emotional engagement. I have to say that I don’t think the audience of Wounds to the Face would be intensely emotionally engaged in the story. Whereas watching Gertrude, He Stumbled or The Castle should, if the acting is operated properly, entail a very painful experience for the public. That’s the symphony.

É. Angel-Perez: As opposed to the rhapsody?

Howard Barker: Yes.

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É. Angek-Perez, Howard Barker, Alexandra Poulain, S. Hatchuel, M. De Block, V. Khamphommala, F. Gallix, P. Buse et C. Finburgh, « A Conversation with Howard Barker about Things on the Stage1 »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 35 | 2008, mis en ligne le 22 mars 2019, consulté le 25 novembre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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É. Angek-Perez

Howard Barker

Alexandra Poulain

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S. Hatchuel

M. De Block

V. Khamphommala

F. Gallix

P. Buse

C. Finburgh

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