Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Simon Callow uses all of his charm and undoubted ability to thrust Juvenal’s musings on the state of Rome from stage to audience in a 75 minute monologue that at times sparkles. At other times it raises our awareness of the decadence of Rome without illuminating our understanding of the underlying causes so much as try to tickle our fancies.
Simon Callow returns to the performance piece that, as a younger man, he delivered with such verve and vitality. Juvenalia is the musings of a satirist on the edge of a society. It is all about a man looking in and mocking the absurdities and the activities of the Roman era. The narrative does not spare whoever it attempts to hit.
This was a well constructed and conceived piece of writing. It has clear targets and they are hit with vigour and rigour. The problem is that if this was about Blair or Heath, Thatcher or Brown, Cameron or Callaghan we would have reference points to which we could attach responses. As it travels through characters and names with which we are unfamiliar it doesn’t appear to be as effective as it ought to be. That having been said if all we are to see and hear are contemporary satire we have nothing against which to judge our progress. This sits as the beginning of satire, perhaps even the birth of stand up comedy. It deserves respect and it requires attention. Of all the arts that it uses the writing is still highly impressive.
Without contemporary references it means that Callow has to work hard; and boy does he! This is a tremendous performance and if the ability of one actor was enough to carry anything then Callow proves he can do it in spades. The dark and light at times get a little lost as he is still trying to gather the crowds and make them see but the titters of his crowd tell us he has them.
The staging and design are like a Victorian boudoir that is open for entertaining. Perhaps like the Dickens Callow preaches at times this is how it requires to be dressed. The Dinner Suit takes it further away from the ancient times upon which it sits thus asking us to accept at least some form of mid point in history from which to view the piece. It works and the re packaging of what is an ancient text does get some new life breathed into it.
The production is of the highest possible standard and makes great use of all of the attributes that Callow brings. I enjoyed this immensely but do feel that the promise of bawdiness and filth a misstep. For all of the words and the performance in front of us, the idea of bawdiness and filth has moved on more than a pace. The exercise that is Juvenalia is worthy and well placed at the Fringe but stretching into some form of comedy genius is pushing it a bit. This is a fine piece of theatre and a welcome addition to our understanding of Roman society but it is far from an illuminating satire on the activities of the modern day. What we draw from this performance is historical rather than hysterical.