All art is dangerous and to be an artist can cost you your sanity and your life. Is art meant to serve society, or is it a vehicle to serve the arrogance of the artist? Or, can it be either or both?!
This intense, explosive production by Sport For Jove, luminously directed by Damien Ryan, is disturbing and powerful yet also at times lyrical and poetic.
In some ways the plays feels like a cross between a play by Tom Stoppard and Vaclav Havel , sharp and witty , wordy with piercing use of language.
First published in 1981 , in thirteen scenes over two acts , NO END OF BLAME roams over six decades of the 20th Century , from 1918 to the mid 1970’s , across various locations in Europe, and the play pits a passionate, provocative pair of artists, one a painter, Igor, the other a cartoonist, Bela ,against the forces of censorship and insidious state control that corrupt and stifle the human right to freedom of thought and freedom of speech.
Projections on the back screen are used to show the various cartoons (as drawn by Nicholas Harding, David Pope and Cathy Wilcox, who provide their own brand of artistry to the production, constantly reminding us of the genre being examined).
The crowded set is a tilted stage with various chairs, desks, a garden etc as necessary, becoming everything from a WW1 battlefield, a dingy artist’s studio with nude model to a RAF airbase to a newspaper head office or a hospital.
Alistair Wallace’s sound design is poignant and memorable and the complementary lighting by Fausto Brusamolino is moody and atmospheric.
We follow the life of Bela Veracek, a Hungarian artist who we meet at the beginning as a poet, who also is studying life drawing and who later becomes a famous political cartoonist.
Veracek lashes out with a cartoonist’s sharp eye for catching the social and political hypocrisy and ugliness he observes around him, railing against oppression wherever he finds it — as a shattered soldier in World War I, an expatriate in 1920s Moscow, an immigrant in London during World War II.
For Bela, the ability to express himself freely with his pen is his utmost priority, whatever it costs him: his family, his friends, his job. The world and its wielders of power do not always take kindly to being ironically punctured. Sitting theoretically safely in the audience, we are probably not really astonished to find that Stalin does not take kindly to Bela’s attacks, but it is quite different when his work is viewed by government officials in England during World War 11 in a disturbingly similar way.
As Bela, Akos Armont gives a towering, sensitive performance. The fine ensemble of eight play over 60 characters over time and in various locations, supporting roles vibrantly portrayed.
Special mention must be made of Sam O’Sullivan as Grigor, a passionate artist and Bela’s great friend. Lizzie Schebesta gives a powerful performance as Ilona, Bela’s muse and wife and in other roles.
Danielle King is very impressive as the Editor Stringer and other roles and Angela Bauer is thrilling as Stella and as other characters.
This savage, brutal, dangerously playful and lyrical play with its pertinent tale of politics and art is very relevant to our contemporary world – think Ai Wei Wei as just one example. We have to remain vigilant. Art must survive.
Running time 3 hours including one interval Sport For Jove’s production of Howard Barker’s NO END OF BLAME is playing the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre until the 28 October.
Playwright: Howard Barker Director: Damien Ryan Cast: Akos Armont, Angela Bauer, Danielle King, Sam O’Sullivan, Monroe Reimers, Lizzie Schebesta, Amy Usherwood, Bryce Youngman