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The Painter, The Creature and The Father of Lies: an Introduction
The dictionary defines incarnation variously as the action of being made flesh, the assumption of a bodily form (particularly of Christ, or of God in Christ) and as the creation of new flesh upon or in a wound or sore: thus, a healing. I cannot imagine an apter title for this collection of plays. Story-telling has always been for me a process of putting on skins; of living lives and dying deaths that belong to somebody else. And the more unlike me I look with these borrowed faces the more interested I am to see the world through their eyes. The thrill of living for a little time as a visionary painter like Goya, or as the Devil, or as in Frankenstein in Love a murdered fan-dancer blithely awaiting the end of the world, brings me back to my desk in the certain knowledge that I am venturing where my daily life would never take me. I am, if you will, addicted to incarnation.
Let me say here and now that reading these plays does not require a degree in theatre arts or a burning ambition to tread the boards. The words are laid out a little differently from a novel or a short story, but the three tales that unfold in the pages that follow are fueled by many of the same passions that shaped Imajica, or The Damnation Game or The Books of Blood. More of that later. First, I would like to offer a brief history of how these dramas, and this edition, came into existence.
The earliest of the plays, The History of the Devil, was written in 1980, for a theatre troupe I had co-formed along with a group offriends in London: The Dog Company. Frankenstein in Love was written two years later, and performed by the same company in both Britain and Europe. Colossus has different origins. It was commissioned in 1983, and became a project for a large and eclectic group of young people brought together to create an original theatre work. It has been my intention to set about collating versions and editing all three texts for several years, but somehow the time has never been there to do so. With hindsight, I think this wasn't simply a question of opportunity. There was in me a certain reluctance to go back and examine work I'd done before the publication of the books pieces I'd been proud of at the time in case I discovered I hated them.
My anxieties misled me. The experience has not only been pleasurable but positively enlightening. It's aroused memories not only of the first productions of the plays but of my earliest encounter with the theatre, which was that most English of entertainments: the pantomime. For those of you not familiar with this extraordinary ritual, let me offer you a thumb-nail sketch. Panto is a Christmas entertainment, usually based on some bastardized fairy-tale, in which the ugly old woman, the Dame, is traditionally played by a man (often a well-known comedian) and the hero is played by a long-legged, thigh-slapping girl. Add a few music numbers, a couple of specialty acts, some smutty double-entendre for the adults and a singalong (complete with song-sheet) for the kids, and you have the mix. It is not, needless to say, the most coherent form of entertainment, but to a child born and raised in drab, post-war Liverpool as I was, Panto offered a glimpse of magic and spectacle that would fuel my dreams for weeks before and after my visit. And in truth there is much in the form I admire. Its artlessness, for one; its riotous indifference to any rules of drama but its own; its guileless desire to delight. And of course beneath all its tartish ways there is buried a story of primal simplicity: good against evil, love triumphing over hate and envy.
This was one of the two formative theatrical experiences of my childhood. The other and in some senses more influential experience was that of the puppet theatre. Like so many imaginative kids whose lives would take them into the theatre, my first taste of working behind the footlights was as a puppeteer. I made a cast of hand, rod and marionette puppets, and then proceeded to write elaborate vehicles for them. My father, who is a fine carpenter, built a stage and painted a variety of backdrops. One I remember with special clarity: a quay-side, with tall ships at anchor, sails unfurled or unfurling in preparation for a voyage.
And voyages I took. My cast was fairly generic, if memory serves. A sword-welding hero, a princess, a skeleton, a Devil, a hag-witch, a dragon. But they were all I needed to create exotic tales of midnight crimes and magic rituals, of horrendous jeopardies and last-minute escapes. There was a good deal of cruelty in the stories I created. This isn't so surprising, given that my earliest exposure to the world of puppets was Punch and Judy shows: short, brutal tales of how the devious and unrepentant Mister Punch kills his own child, beats his wife to death and then inexorably murders the rest of the cast (one at a time; the Punch and Judy man only has two hands) with his truncheon. My puppet tales also contained a measure of supernatural stuff, the appetite for which I trace to my paternal grandmother, who had a healthy nineteenth century appetite for the macabre.
This was, please remember, at a time and place when only a few of the neighbors owned television sets (we didn't) and comics were rare treasures. It isn't so surprising then that I found an audience of local kids for my entertainments. They would gather in the alley behind our house to watch my one-man epics, and though I'm sure time has improved the reviews, the shows seemed to find favor.Incarnations. Copyright © by Clive Barker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.