Chasing the Ellipses: Staging Howard Barker’s The Forty (Few Words)

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In this article, the author presents a reflection on the practice of directing the first performances of a Barker text, The Forty (Few Words), for performance by final year undergraduates. In doing so, he extends the formal principle of his first publication in STP (Rabey 1992), of incorporating in the body of the essay similarly reflective quotations from his students (with their permission). He includes exclusive interview material with Barker, from a dialogue and forum undertaken after a public performance of the production, and acknowledges the importance of the informing principles of Marshall in working towards an appropriate consecutive staging of forty short plays, which are either wordless or contain one spoken phrase. Student testimonies, as well as the central directorial voice, identify and analyse the progression to developing appropriate styles of performance and scenography for the production; the testimony of an audience member articulates a response. The author develops the recent important observations of Freeland (2011) on the elliptical qualities of Barker's work which have previously been noted as a principle characteristic (Rabey 2009: 9); and offers a provocation for further investigation of possible analogues with, or distinctions from, Badiou's work on Beckett. The author concludes with exclusive correspondence material from Barker; by looking forward to ways in which future production work on The Forty might provide important training opportunities for directors, performers and scenographers, as well as unique theatrical events; and by anticipating the prospect of this first production of the text, in an academic context, informing future professional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-304
JournalStudies in Theatre and Performance
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2012


  • ellipsis
  • gesture
  • Howard Barker
  • Lorna Marshall
  • The Forty (Few Words)
  • stylization
  • Thomas Freeland


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