In four wooden thrones, four women sit. Princesses, priestesses, icons. Black-gowned and sepulchral they wait, and they listen to the distant, insistent thump that betokens the coming, infinitely slow, of the barbarians.
Hanna Berrigan’s production of Slowly for The Wrestling School is taut and intense, its drearness undercut with splashes of muted hilarity. Howard Barker’s four funereal madonnas, weeping and wrathful, debate with furious pedantry the manner and meaning of their self-inflicted extinction. But the terrible sophistication of their self-communing is threatened by the very acuteness of their discourse. What will happen if someone dare challenge the premise that pipes the measure for their determined dance of death?
Vanessa Ackerman, Suzy Cooper, Megan Hall and Penelope McGhie flesh out the drama’s bitter abstractions with painstaking care and unfathomable pity. White-faced and wary, their uniform weeds and sculptural formality makes meaningful the smallest physical deviation or twitch, their knotted fingers and wide open eyes silently screaming with tension.
Slowly broods mercilessly on the unseemly slippage between compassion and capitulation, the basest denominators of survival, and the emotional terrorism of willed victimhood. The play is unblinkingly cruel about the place of women in the world and in war (a woman can get by with just three words, one sister tutors another). And it scrupulously declines to judge between the variant duties and desires which consume the four women, briefly, unexpectedly shocked into painful liberty by the violent dissolution of every protocol they’ve ever known.
Short, sour and stinging, Slowly pits the seductive rituals of conformity against the risk and indignity of freedom. Impartially baleful, it makes no promises of happy endings for anyone. The only certainty is that the barbarians, infinitely slowly, continue their advance.