Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 24, September 27, 1976.
'Claw by Howard Barker:
'Claw by Howard Barker:
Claw is a violent and unusual play. It is full of savage humour and mirthless laughter; brutally callous, and of an intensity that doesn't seem to belong to our age at all. The scheming machiavels, malicious heroines, and scandalous tricksters are all lifted from the world of the Jacobean Theatre; but the play is set this side of World War Two and diagnoses the present state of British Society.
The story centres around a working class lad who is determined to 'claw' his way to the top and worm his way round the ubiquitous English class sytem. Howard Barker (his play, Cheek was performed at Unity earlier this year) uses this framework to reveal the corrupt and farcicle nature of British social convention. He illustrates all too clearly the 'divide and rule' principle of social control: 'If you've got a stirrer, promote him!' But woe and betide anyone who tries to 'take onthe British Ruling Class.' Intrinsic to this stance is the question: 'Is this any basis for a system of government?'
Claw shows the almost paradoxical effect the works of Karl Marx have on society. Marxist precepts are inextricably woven into its fabric, but Marx himself lived in another century and did not forsee social developments like the welfare state and 'liberal democracy'. Just as scientific concepts change in the light of new discovery, so social doctrine must evolve to keep us with social change. Barker highlights this by describing a fifties youth group, the Young Communist League, sitting around waiting for Marx's revolutions to occur. If socialism is to suceed, an entirely new approach is required (Tony Been, come back, all is forgiven.) Accompanied by songs from the sixties John Lennan's Working Class Hero: some Rolling Stones and the Troggs - the whole 'crisis of British socialism' is examined in a novel and exciting way.
Barker's characters are not drawn full-bodied. He is more concerned to show the effect the environment has on a character, and the subsequent effect that character has on others - and not the effect he has on his inner self. There is a delicate balance to sustain here between archetype and characature. If there were any laurels to be handed out for performance, they would have to go to John Reid for his dual roles as Mr Biledew and working class demobbed serviceman; and Clapcott - a tory cabinet minister. Biledew, rendered impotent by a war injury, turns to the works of Marx for salvation. Reid's portrayal of him as the dour, brooking but compassionate voice of conscience, made a great impression. As Clapcott, urbane, unruffled and slightly overweight, he underwent a complete transformation, and was equally convincing. It takes a good deal of concentration to handle roles like these with such assurance.
Janice Finn is a very accomplished actress. She plays Mrs Biledew and Angie, Clapcott's wayward wife, Although John Reid wasn't as polished a performer as Miss Finn, his characterisations had more depth. Angie and Mrs Biledew were p played a little too much as charicatures. The mannerisms and the style of her performance were good but became predictable as the play progressed. None the less, the overall standard of performance was high.
Micheal Wilson features as Claw, alias Noel Biledew. He gave the part his usual energy, but his characterisation did not reach the level set by the other two.
Jean Betts seems to enjoy aggressive play's and this production alsmost snarls at the audience. The last scene is almost given over to two monologues delivered by Peter Haden (as an ex IRA Terrorist) and Miceal Morrissey. This scene is beautifully constructed and sustained for the twist at the end, but during it, the thread of the play is easily mislaid. Barker has included enough material in these two monologues to write another two plays, both of which would be equally absorbing. The only major detraction from the show was the awkward and untidy set which at times made the actors look as if they were working with a disability.
Claw is an extremely evocative play. Its images are clear and well developed. The performances are of a high professional standard, This is an excellent opportunity to see modern NZ-performed English drama at its best.