Scenes From an Execution - Howard Barker. Hackney Empire, 2006

This play is set in 16th Century Venice, so for me, I'm already intrigued as I have a prior interest in the history of the Doge and his palace.

Galactia, a female painter, is commissioned to paint the Battle of Lepanto. The Doge wished this to be a celebratory canvas of the triumphant victory of the Holy League Alliance, however, as Galactia paints, she is determined that she will stay true to herself and instead depicts a scene of the atrocities of war. She depicts blood and guts and the suffering of the soldiers, which is an embarrassment to The Doge.

In real life, The Battle of Lepanto was a horrific battle, and the last major naval battle to be fought entirely by galleys in the Mediterranean. A Venetian colony at Famagusta in Cyprus had been besieged by the Turks, following the fall of Nicosia. The Venetians had surrendered, having been told they could leave Cyprus, however, the Ottoman Commander reneged, imprisoned the Venetians, and beheaded the Venetian commanders. A fleet of ships from the Holy League sailed towards the Gulf of Patras where they met the Ottoman fleet. They engaged in combat and the Ottomans were decisively beaten after a four hour battle. 40,000 people were killed in those four hours.

After pushing The State (The Doge) too far, The Doge became worried that he has commissioned the wrong person, she was a wild card in a dominant male society. The painting she is producing is too real, it is too close to the truth and she can not be allowed to continue with it. Her disagreement with The Doge leads to an encounter in which he accuses her that her painting shows nothing but a slaughter and therefore she is an enemy of the Republic. He has no choice but to imprison her.

Galactia's young lover Carpeter (Tom Burke) is also a painter, but of the same regurgitated religious paintings, (Christ amongst the flocks) he has not got the visualisation of Galactia to take up the commission of such an epic painting. Nevertheless he is approached to take over from her, and he takes the opportunity to make a name for himself, however he has to paint under the critical eye of The Doge rather than being allowed to express his imagination.

The play exploits several themes, that difficulty between doing what is asked of you and staying true to yourself. Should your personal ambitions take priority over morality? Throughout the play Galactia is almost on a mission of self-destruction, ignoring the words of those around her, including her two daughters Supporta and Dementia, who are both worried about their mother's state of mind.

This is an interesting play, which is poetically easy to read, about one woman's battle through her art in pushing the establishment too far.