Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A Generous Lover is a solo show by La John Joseph, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones and performed in the amazingly creepy Anatomy Lecture Theatre @ Summerhall. It is a true and very queer tale of navigating the mental health services for one’s lover. It draws on on epic poetry, classical mythology and music to create an intimate and beguiling world.
I would bet this show has more words in it than most fringe shows and La JJ performed, enunciated and articulated every single one of them with breathtaking speed and diction. The writing was exceptional and very clever. The narrative wound together La JJ’s personal story of supporting a lover through mental health problems with the myth of Orpheus and his descent into the Underworld. The language was creative and monologues poured out, so evocative I could see every place and character La JJ brought forth.
This is a stellar performance. Right from the first moment we were captured by La JJ. Whether singing or performing there is a beautiful old fashioned edge to La JJ’s voice. It invokes films from the 1940 and La JJ’s style of delivering lines fast but clear reminded me of Katherine Hepburn. This is not a period piece though, the script is peppered with current references and music, giving a timeless quality to the piece. La JJ totally commits to this show and has great energy and presence. The narrator was a joy to behold with macabre undertones and a sprinkling of Tim Curry
Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ direction is bold and brilliant and fits the space very well. Every movement was perfectly timed with the text and nothing felt false or out of place. Edinburgh forces you to pair down your set to the bare minimum and often this is where companies struggle. That was not the case with A Generous Lover. All the props, costume, lighting & sound cocooned La JJ and gave the stage a coherent and finished feel. The simple set, a white chair, a white plinth and an old-fashioned white hospital screen was all there was and all we needed. Enough to give us a base to hang our imaginings on without feeling sparse. The Lighting Design was simple but effective and changed with each scene to nudge us visually between characters and locations. There were a few particularly striking moments when La JJ was strongly lit from behind whilst singing. A violet dress and hooded shawl allowed La JJ to switch characters with minimal effort and maximum effect.
This is a masterclass in solo work. The narrative flowed and every song, sung hauntingly live was perfectly selected for this piece. The journey we went one was one of sadness and humour, with never too much of one or the other, and interspersed with the outlandish narrator, lips bared, spitting out the words through gritted teeth. Generous Lover draws references from popular culture, Whitney Huston, vaping, the NHS, private health care and even Berlin clubbing and weaves them together with a deeply personal and emotional story. La JJ’s delivery melds those reference together the style of the 1940s, fast talking dame and very the real experiences of loving someone who is ill.
I loved this show. It was bold and daring. La JJ was exquisite and a pleasure to watch perform. All the elements of this show knitted together to make something greater than its parts as a great show should do. The creative team should be applauded for making something this good! The other audiences members loved this show too, with more than half of the audience rising to give La JJ a standing ovation at the end. Choosing to stage it in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre was a stroke of brilliance. Moving, engaging and enthralling, La JJ and the creative team have crafted an exceptional piece of theatre. It was sad to see the space half full as this show deserves to sell out. This is a Hidden Gem and I encourage you whole heartedly to watch this show.