Review: JARMAN, Greenwich Theater
Derek Jarman was a leading figure in the arts, gay culture and political activism in the 70s, 80s and 90s, before AIDS took his life at just 52. He designed sets for Ken Russell and John Gielgud, made experimental films and feature films that exploited the Zeitgeist more successfully than most and, at a time when others (some now adored) were silent about their sexuality and HIV status, he was not. Don’t underestimate the courage it took back then. He didn’t give a damn – well, in a way.
Mark Farrelly’s monologue captures Jarman’s disruptive iconoclasm in episodes chronicling his unique life. The homosexual public schoolboy from a military family continually instructed to be ashamed; the young man finding his bearings and his identity in the theater and then in the cinema; the pre-HIV era hedonist from Soho; the activist who didn’t go easy on that good night.
Farrelly may not have met his subject and does not attempt to imitate, but rather channels the man’s energy, his playfulness, his refusal to accept the norms that had so suffocated him in his years of training. What emerges is an artist who may not have been as disciplined as he could have been with the cinematic mechanics of call sheets and budgets (although he did know how to say yes when Channel Four is came to call with a check for £1/2million), but who inspired others and nurtured talent like Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean.
The show is built to roll, so Farrelly does a lot with a handful of props and lights (and a perfectly posed evocation of At Sebastien’s iconic movie poster) but, for an artist as visual as Jarman, it’s a shame there aren’t any clips or photographs to show – many young people simply won’t be familiar with his work and might wonder what it’s all about and we older fans would enjoy a bit of pungent nostalgia. It shouldn’t be too hard to sort out technology and rights these days.
That said, the show is a beautiful tribute to a pathfinder in many ways, who, had he lived a few more years, might still be with us, 80 years old, today.
And it is important to bear witness to this lost generation. My son, seeing Keith Haring’s work as an AIDS activist in New York City in the 80s, was a little shaken – “I never realized they were so young”. That HIV is now a manageable condition in many parts of the world and that the worst excesses of gay demonization (once a staple of politicians and the media) are relegated to the past, Jarman’s policy legacy is secure. . In the immediate availability of his films on streaming platforms, the same can be said of his artistic legacy. I suspect he would approve of both of these developments – but also that he would have found something else to disturb, the old look in the tendril’s eye!
Jarman is on tour in the UK
Photo courtesy CNC