Brighton Fringe 2009
The Rape of Lucrece
Gerard Logan, Gareth Armstrong
Venue: Upstairs at Three and Ten
Festival: Brighton Fringe
In The Rape of Lucrece, one of the darker of the Bard’s basket of delights, the reader is led into the dark world of forbidden desire and lust, and the aftermath of so shocking a horrifying an event. As it is a work by Shakespeare, many have attempted to turn it into a performable piece, and tonight’s offering was another such striving to make this piece watchable and entertaining, which it succeeded in doing admirably. Intensely and powerfully delivered by Gerard Logan, the audience was scarcely given a chance to absorb the immensity of the subject matter as lines were lashed upon us, and the result was powerful and enticing. A handful of small faults, unfortunately, allowed the much-needed intensity to linger and wain, but this is high-powered stuff, and very enjoyable to watch.
The story of The Rape of Lucrece is deceptively simple: Tarquin, a Roman prince, lusts after his friend Collatine’s wife, Lucrece. After stealing into her bed-chamber and committing the rape, he flees in shame. Lucrece, similarly shamed, calls her husband home, and commits suicide. Collatine and his friends vow revenge on Tarquin, who flees into exile. Within this simple framework, Shakespeare skips back and forth between the characters, allowing all sides of the tale to be told, as well as capturing Tarquin’s lust, his explanations of his atrocious act, as well as Lucrece’s shame and subsequent suicidal urge. The material is powerful and horrifying; psychological torment and lustful, erotic language are juxtaposed painfully well, and one cannot help but feel slightly shamed by what they are experiencing. Praise should be given here to Jon Tarlton, as his adaptation of the script carries all of these thematic elements, not skimping on the difficult or disturbing lines: these are what give the piece its horrid energy.
Logan’s job on stage is not easy. He has to portray a variety of characters, and deliver these base emotional lines with intensity and vigour, without sacrificing the needed cadence, diction and flow of the writing. He achieves all of these, to a degree. The lines are beautifully and excellently delivered, not a missed syllable or beat to be heard, although their directness, their crispness, lessened the emotional impact. Even when lustfully snarling or mournfully wailing, Logan didn’t let his diction slip, and thus, at moments of high emotion, the acting seemed to give way to simple storytelling. However, despite those highest of moments, the emotionality seething through the piece was presented well, and Logan had no problem involving the audience and making them part of the nightmare. My only other criticism would be his moments as Lucrece: his voice was pitched too high, and made some very haunting passages a little ridiculous. Otherwise, this is well-delivered, powerful, and an immense achievement for one actor.
The production of the piece is similarly crisp and clear, and worthy of praise. The music is haunting and powerfully, excellently composed by Simon Slater, although it was a little too loud on the night, occasionally drowning out Logan in its discordant glory, or fading into a little unfortunate feedback. What Logan was wearing and the simple cloth he was working with fit the piece very well, and brought to mind the elaborate story-teller of yore, passing from town to town and telling his tales; a shame it didn’t fit the venue at Upstairs at Three and Ten, with its slightly gaudy red material draped over red-brick. Although it is commendable that the piece relies on a single actor and a bare stage, a little dressing could have been done to make the space more neutral. Nevertheless, it only jarred a little.
In short, this is a powerful achievement. The script has been made performable and exciting, and it is delivered by a master of his craft. A couple of minor issues do haunt the heels of this production, and a little more attention to detail would not go amiss. Nonetheless, an evocative whole, and worthy of plenty of attention.