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Scenes from an Execution - NT (Lyttelton)

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

FIONA Shaw (as Galactia) will lead the cast of Howard Barker’s darkly humorous and provocative Scenes from an Execution, which opens in the National’s Lyttelton Theatre on October 4, 2012 (previews from September 27) before continuing in repertoire.

Commissioned to paint a vast canvas celebrating the triumphant Battle of Lepanto, the free-spirited Galactia creates instead a breathtaking scene of war-torn carnage.

In her fierce determination to stay true to herself, she alienates the authorities and faces incarceration. Her younger lover Carpeta is approached to take over and seizes the assignment for himself.

Howard Barker’s Scenes from an Execution makes sixteenth-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.

Fiona Shaw has appeared in many leading roles in National Theatre productions, including London Assurance, Mother Courage and Her Children, Happy Days (also in Paris, Madrid, Epidaurus, Washington, New York, Amsterdam and Dublin), Richard II, The Good Person of Sichuan (Critics’ Circle Award for Best Actress), The Powerbook and Machinal (Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Actress).

Her theatre credits elsewhere include John Gabriel Borkman (Abbey Theatre, Ireland and New York), Julius Caesar (Barbican), Medea (West End and Broadway: Evening Standard Best Actress Award), Electra (RSC), and The Waste Land (international tour).

Her recent screen work includes Dorian Gray, The Tree of Life and the Harry Potter films.

Shaw will be joined in Scenes from an Execution by Jamie Ballard, William Chubb, Mark Extance, Robert Galas, Ian Hallard, Robert Hands, Lucas Hare, Jennifer Jackson, Gráinne Keenan, Gerard McArthur, Tim McInnerny, Robyn Moore, Phoebe Nicholls, Tom Peters, Rochenda Sandall and Jay Simpson.

Scenes from an Execution will be directed by Tom Cairns, whose theatre work includes Aristocrats (National Theatre), Being Shakespeare (West End, New York and Chicago), Phaedra (Donmar Warehouse), All About My Mother and Cloud Nine (Old Vic), and A Chain Play and Aunt Dan and Lemon (Almeida Theatre).

His work in opera includes Thomas Ades’ The Tempest and La Voix Humaine (ROH) and The Second Mrs Kong (Glyndebourne); while on screen, he directed Marie and Bruce (co-written with Wallace Shawn), the award-winning series Amongst Women and the Grammy-nominated Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein.

Howard Barker’s works have been played by the Royal Court, Royal Shakespeare Company, The Open Space Theatre, Sheffield Crucible and the Almeida (where Scenes from an Execution received its English stage premiere in 1990), as well as extensively in Europe, the United States and Australia.

He is currently Artistic Director of The Wrestling School, a company established to disseminate his works and develop his theory of production. He is the author of plays for marionettes, three librettos for opera, two works of theory, and five volumes of poetry.

Scenes from an Execution will be designed by Hildegard Bechtler, with sound and music by Ben and Max Ringham.