Judith: A Parting from the Body at Omnibus Theatre
Exploring patriotism, love, deception and power, Howard Barker’s Judith: A Parting from the Body, directed by Robyn Winfield-Smith, is more about the fragility and mutability of human nature than it is about the traditional biblical story upon which it is based: an Israeli widow who decapitates the general of Nebuchadnezzar to save her country from destruction.
An immense richness, complexity and intensity are contained within this brief one-act production. An Assyrian general, Holofernes (Liam Smith), is a brutal and bloodthirsty killer whose hard exterior conceals emotion and vulnerability. A philosopher, fascinated with death, he baffles the two women who visit him – Judith (Catherine Cusack) and her Servant (Kristin Hutchinson) – with his contradictory cruelty, sensitivity, ruthlessness and prophetic masochism. The outspoken Servant bravely engages him in verbal spars, despite his harsh physical retaliations against her: “You are the most peculiar man…you would make a prostitute uneasy…” Judith, whose mission is to kill him, is torn by her growing love for him. Yet the question prevails amid their conversations: what is truth, what is a lie? Judith’s transformations from determined but tentative warrior to confused love-stricken, broken woman, and then arrogant, authoritarian tyrant match her servant’s dual brashness and subjugation and Holofernes’s volatility. That people are complicated, contradictory and multi-faceted is clearly thematic here.
Besides being a highly intriguing examination of individual psychology, two elements stand out: the superbly written dialogue and the excellence of the performances. Cusack as Judith is riveting and passionate as she brilliantly morphs within the complexity of her emotions. Smith’s portrayal of the intense general is very powerful and Kristin Hutchinson is outstanding as the courageous Servant.
Combining the classic with the cutting edge, the writing is both exquisitely poetic and yet raw with honesty in its boldness and profanity. The action is shocking and key in complementing and illustrating dialogue, as is, for example, Judith’s futile attempt to impregnate herself with her lover’s dead body.
Omnibus’ small stage creates an intimacy with the piece, although the play would also do well in a larger theatre. A minimal set highlights the quick intensity and urgency of emotion and action.
Based on a centuries old tale that has long captured the imagination of writers and artists, Barker has remarkably recreated this story as a moving contemporary contemplation of human nature. Winfield-Smith’s strong directing and an exceptional cast bring it alive with vivacity and poignancy.
Photo: Nick Rutter
Judith is at the Omnibus Theatre from 13th until 15th September 2017. For further information or to book visit here.