Stripwell is quite different from most of Barker's plays, especially his more recent postmodernist excursions into ambiguity. Barker said that it was ‘planned coldly to be a commercially successful play’, and he now refuses to list it under his published work. It is an accessible, witty piece, made more enjoyable at its Royal Court premiere by the playing of Michael Hordern in the title role. In appropriating the genre of West End comedy, Barker set out to explore ‘the ambiguous state of power, its mediation, the complicity of victims’ and so challenged Establishment figures from a Socialist viewpoint. As his wife says, Stripwell is ‘The sort of person who ends up running concentration camps’. More integrity is in fact shown by Cargill, the violent criminal. Barker employs a variety of styles: verbal wit, grotesque humour, psychological realism (as in Stripwell's confession of his affair to his wife), direct address to the audience, abrupt theatrical changes (e.g. from courtroom to a dance bar), and shock (e.g. the final murder).
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Howard Barker (b. 1946)