Jennifer Steyn stars as the rebellious artist in Scenes from an Execution at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town this March and April.
After her phenomenal, double Fleur du Cap-nominated performances in A Doll’s House and The Inconvenience of Wings last year, Jennifer Steyn returns to the Baxter stage as the remarkable anti-heroine Galactia in Howard Barker’s Scenes from an Execution, at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 30 March to 22 April at 7.30pm nightly and a matinee on 1 April at 2.30pm.
Clare Stopford directs a stellar cast made up of theatre favourites Steyn, along with Graham Hopkins (The Mother, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood) and Nicky Rebelo (West Side Story, The Kreutzer Sonata) and a dynamic ensemble of young actors Khathushelo Ramabulana (Black Dog/ Inj`emnyama, Letters To Madiba), Cleo Raatus (The Fall, District Six Kanala), Elizabeth Akudugu (Twelfth Night, Have you Seen Zandile?), Phoebe Ritchie (Cincinnati, The Seagull) and Lauren Blackwell (Girl in The Yellow Dress, Cincinatti).
Except for Steyn, Hopkins and Ramabulana, the rest of the cast play multiple characters to bring the thrilling story to life. Set design is by Patrick Curtis, costume design by Leigh Bishop and set and props construction is by Nick Mayer.
Barker’s Scenes from an Execution makes 16th century Venice the setting for a fearless exploration of sexual politics and the timeless tension between personal ambition and moral responsibility, between the patron’s demands and the artist’s autonomy.
The story revolves around Galactia, an impossibly transgressive artist, who is commissioned by the Venetian republic to create a painting celebrating the triumph of Venice at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. What emerges in her uncompromising pursuit of truth is the ugliness of slaughter.
Galactia herself is brilliant, vain, arrogant and politically naive. Will this most transgressive artist be co-opted by the state? This study of the relationship between the artist and the state is known to be British playwright Howard Barker’s most accessible and commercial play.
The play was first seen in South Africa at the Market Theatre in 1994 where it garnered multiple awards including the best director for Clare Stopford. Graham Hopkins, who reprises his role as the Doge nearly 25 years later, also clinched an award.
Stopford once again teams with Jennifer whom she directed in Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing in 2005. Other productions which she has directed at the Baxter in recent years include Black Dog/ Inj`emnyama, Blue Orange, Purgatorio and Reach. She facilitated the Baxter’s hit production of The Fall.
“I wanted to do this play for a second time because the central character is a woman and my hero (ine). She’s who I want to be when I grow up, so to speak,” says Stopford. “Galactia is a female fantasy figure of epic proportions: an incredibly talented painter with an unstoppable compulsion for the truth, a formidable intellect and wit, as well as fearlessness in the face of opposition from state and church. Moreover, she is also sexy, a mother and the lover of a younger man. She even has a sense of humour.”
She continues, “Galactica is judged as a shrill, aggressive, promiscuous and over-zealous witch by the establishment and she is thrown into jail for refusing to valorise Venice in a state-commissioned painting of the Battle of Lepanto. Ultimately, for me, the play is a meditation on the nature of the relationship between artists and the establishment who often fund them, and more than anything, about the effect of art on an audience. In the end the piece belongs to the viewer; meaning is finally in the heart and eyes of the audience.”
Last year Jennifer Steyn wowed audiences with her riveting performances in A Doll’s House, directed by Christian Olwagen and Lara Foot’s The Inconvenience of Wings, which earned her Fleur du Cap nominations for both productions in the same category. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 19 March.
Howard Barker is an internationally renowned dramatist, whose first plays were performed at the Royal Court and by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Since 1992 his work has been presented by his own company The Wrestling School. Barker’s theatre is characterised by his poetic, non-naturalistic form and inhabits worlds of contradiction, suffering and sexual passion. Barker is also a poet and theorist of theatre, who’s Theatre of Catastrophe defines a new form of tragedy for our times.
Scenes from an Execution previews from 30 March to 3 April, opens on 4 April and runs until 22 April at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday, 1 April at 2.30pm. Ticket prices are R130 (previews and matinees), R140 (Mondays to Thursdays) and R160 (Fridays and Saturdays).