Simon Callow in Juvenalia
“Lions are easier to feed. Poets have bigger bellies.”
Less than a fortnight into my near two months of solitude, I venture out into the wilderness of the Fringe. The glare of daylight stinging my eyes, I find myself walking into The Mound and sitting in front of a plastic palm tree, a hamper, a high swivel chair and a mic stand, yet I have no idea what I’ve come to see. Based on previous monopolylogue shows of Callow’s (and that actually is a term, though I’d be in favour of polymonologue, but hey!) I had high hopes. That may have been a mistake.
After about fifteen minutes, I realised what was happening, and my research after the show confirmed what had happened, but it didn’t necessarily make anything clearer. Juvenal is that friend who is great to party with, but shouldn’t be allowed to talk in new company. He’s crude, rude, crass and vulgar, and no one is off limits from his prejudice.
I get it: the script was revamped (for a second time since the 70s) because of the parallels with the modern era, which would therefore make it topical. Or is it? All I heard was a closed-minded man who thought everyone was lesser than him.
The characters were in no way distinct, the handheld microphone held back Callow’s usual command of stage, and I’m at a loss on what the actual thread of the piece was. Initially, it seemed as though it was one man talking to various people. Halfway to the end, however, it became about men in their decline, and how they should be pitied (after slagging off foreigners, all womankind and their gay best friend) and I couldn’t tell if this was the same poet we were introduced to at the beginning.
In a nutshell, even though I’d seen this on its first day, it’s hard to find what I’d recommend about it. Performance-wise, the distinctions could have been so much clearer, and Callow should know better. Script-wise, to revive an ancient text means it came across more as an artist’s masturbation over linguistic porn, instead of providing insight: prejudices of old are no different than they were in Rome AD 100. Every performer relishes the opportunity to use fancy words and jumbled adjectives long out of use. This just wasn’t a good example.
“I don’t feel cheated on. I feel cheated of.”
The line above, spoken by Joan, is the play in a nutshell. Tom, her husband, cheats on her, prompting Joan to hire an escort to even the score.
Why did he never treat her the way he described his recent encounter?
What happened to the spark, the exploration of each other and their sexual relationship?
Can that element of relationship withstand the test of time, or should they accept the inevitable and end it?
It turns out, however, Tom’s one night stand never happened, which seems a bit of cop out. But he had said it specifically to hurt Joan – perhaps that will lead on to something interesting, because:
Why would you say that to someone?
Why would hurting the person you supposedly love with something entirely fictional make any sense?
Well, we didn’t get an answer, and were instead taken to Tara’s home, the girlfriend of Peter. By this point, I’d lost interest. Something about Tesco’s and prostitution being similar but different, and that all Peter had to do to make Tara stay was to say “I love you”, even though saying that meant he could no longer be an escort. The music was irritating, the scene changes took far too long, and I felt cheated of what was a very promising idea.
What I can recommend is the set and Cara Kelly (Joan). The set was impressively utilised, transforming the various locations and furniture requirements. Of all the actors, Cara was the most in character, a broken example of a wife long forgotten by her husband. Her delivery was on point, and her handle of the dialogue far surpassed her co-stars. Truly, she was a joy to watch and listen to, not least because she could swear, and it suited her.