Do you like bad news?
Howard Barker, one of Britain’s best kept secrets, has had his devastating yet amusing short play on bad news, called The Dying of Today, produced by and shown at The Other Room at Porter’s.
All set within the confines of a barber’s shop, the audience enters the theatre space to see the barber peacefully pondering a newspaper whilst his client, who we come to know as Dneister, lies underneath a hot towel, seemingly having just received a shave.
Suddenly, the eerie silence is broken, with the eccentric Dneister suddenly asking us: “Do you like bad news? I do. I’ll give you bad news, if you want it. ‘Why do you prefer bad news?’ I ask myself. Do you like grief? Do you like chaos? Not at all! Only I think men are more beautiful flung down than standing up.”
Dneister is clearly speaking into the mirror to the tending barber, who begins to cut his hair, however the questions resonate within us all. Barker is addressing society’s obsession with bad news, in this case the destruction of an entire society following a country’s failed military campaign.
The play is a modern day interpretation of the events of the Peloponnesian War, an ancient Greek war fought by Athens against the Sparta, with the barber symbolising the innocent Athenian civilisation whose pain is inflicted upon him through no fault of his own.
Directed by Kate Wasserberg, the play explores how we feel compelled to share bad news and how, even as your heart is in your mouth, some part of you is experiencing the thrill of your own survival, as you feel a burning desire to tell another person and share that feeling.
Christian Patterson delivers a convincing, emotional performance as the barber, growing into his performance as the show progresses. His chemistry with Leander Deeny as Dneister is intriguing, as each take their turn to be overcome with emotion while the other remains calm.
No lines are scripted for the imposing figure of the barber within the first quarter of an hour, as Dneister’s monologue reveals the fact there is bad news, while not going into any particular detail, compelling the barber to reveal that he knew already what the bad news was, but was afraid to speak of it.
Dneister’s character requires a powerful performance – and Deeny delivered. It is clear he is supposed to be very animated to the barber’s stoicism and then mania, but I can’t help but think it would have had more finesse if he had been able to tune it down a little.
The venue for this intense emotional performance was intimate at the charismatic Porter’s Bar on Bute Terrace.
The auditorium only has 50 seats, so the echoes of the frequent shouting make for a very intense performance.
Overall, an enjoyable and emotive performance, and moderately short at just a 60-minute running time.
The Dying of Today runs until April 11 at Porter’s and tickets are priced at £12.50 (£10.50 for concessions).