Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


Good Night Out presents

Judith: A Parting from the Body

JUDITH Emmeline Prior as Servant, Catherine Cusack as Judith, Liam Smith as Holofernes 2

Photographer Rocco Redondo



Written by Howard Barker


Directed by Robyn Winfield-Smith


Cock Tavern Theatre


Feb. 1 - 20 2011







A review by Richard J Thornton

Barker's Judith is a linguistic maelstrom. Shifting from Shakespearean 'beseech you's to bricklayer's swearing rants, the script rises up through the characters and strangles them into stupefying submission. The skill of Winfield-Smith's direction here is in keeping the characters human, thus preventing them from becoming authorial androids, subsequently mesmerising the audience, enabling them forget the lack of leg room at the humble Cock Tavern Theatre.

The set initially feels over-stylised: blankets of grey drape all three walls, a grey director's chair props up one corner, and a grey sheeted bed grasps the adjacent wall. The statement piece is the triptych of white clay heads erected on spikes, capped by identical ropes hanging from the ceiling - an impressive artistic image, but one fears a compensation for lack of faith in the performance per se. Not so. The acting is brilliant, and with the exception of one or two rigid lines from Liam Smith's Holofernes, flawless. There's a slight distance between audience and stage as Catherine Cusack's mighty Judith confronts Holofernes in the opening minutes, but as soon as Emmeline Prior's Servant lightens the tone with her chatterbox entrance, the chemistry bubbles and the tension mounts. It's beautiful when an audience struggles to identify the lead figure, and despite the eponymous suggestion, each character holds such unique theatrical weight that there's no more inclination to lean sympathy towards Judith than any other.

This ambiguity is sourced in the power of Barker's script, but this balance is just an equation on paper until Winfield-Smith seizes its' potential, using it to ignite her actors. The play works on the premise that all statements of love, loyalty, deceit and desire are barbed lies used to torture both the object and the subject. Judith and Holofernes' twisting, power dialogue is part philosophy, part sophistry, part emotional narcotic, and despite the innately bewildering nature of such conversation, Winfield-Smith manages to boost crisp nuggets of meaning into the daylight for the audience to absorb.

But a clever director needs strong tools, and these actors bring a fire to this one-act three-hander that sets off the smoke alarm. Cusack's dichotomous pride and subservience plants an eerie tone, while her final transformations between (feigned) madness and searing dominance reveal the damage caused to a body and mind that has endured such heartfelt lies and nerve-aching suspense. Prior's composure is admirable in the ravaging circumstances, and she offers a clever portrayal of a sense-driven woman with an energetic and loquacious heart. In fact, Prior acts as the keystone which adds a driven spark of normality to the whole piece, resituating it in humanity and thereby keeping the audience in the loop.

As the play blooms, the holistic aesthetic unifies. Nick Jones's sound is pitch perfect, so much so that it's difficult to decipher whether his off stage battle cries come from the speakers or the London high street below. The costumes feel both natural and exquisite, although Holofernes's opening cravat and jacket get-up seems unnecessary and difficult to place historically.

Linguistically, Judith is a booming river of ideas that could either drown or hydrate an audience. Winfield-Smith's ability to bring a precise physicality to the script ensures that this river is dammed and directed in such a way that it unleashes both knowledge and emotion without drifting into incomprehensibility and farce. If you like your emotional philosophy adrenaline-spiked and ensnaring, the Cock Tavern's Judith will be your cup of cold, strong tea.

0207 478 0165

The Cock Tavern Theatre
125 Kilburn High Rd
London NW6 6JH

SEASON: 7-26 February, 
Sun-Tue 7.30pm
Wednesday 16 Feb, 7,30pm
MATINEE: Sat 26 Feb, 1.00pm

TICKETS: £12/10




Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved