The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Saturday 9th April 2022
Mark Farrelly is the write and star of this one-man piece about the life of filmmaker and gay rights activist, Derek Jarman. From the off, we are immersed in the lyrical script as Derek describes the plants and flowers in his now-famous garden. The descriptions are interrupted by short, sharp flashbacks from his childhood (You’ll go blind… etc) startling us out of the flowery idyll of his cottage.
Farrelly takes us through his subject’s life story sure enough but it quickly emerges that this show is about more than one man’s life. It’s about all our lives, or rather our attitude to it. Farrelly confronts us, albeit playfully, to confront what it is we’re doing with our allotted time.
It’s a small matinee audience. Farrelly is sure to address us all as individuals, darting around, making eye contact here, asking a rhetorical question there. Throughout the show, there’s a frisson of excitement and/or terror about being called upon to participate. Farrelly is gentle with his volunteers and/or victims so there is no need to feel uneasy. In fact, the message of the piece is to be unafraid to participate. In our own lives!
We hear about sexual encounters, both real and fantasy. We hear about Jarman’s repressive upbringing, his first jobs out of art college, before he launches into the film career that will make his name.
It’s all done in spartan fashion. A single chair, a sheet, a roll of paper, and a multi-coloured flashlight are all Farrelly uses – as well as his considerable talent and presence as a performer. He rides, not just a roller-coaster, but an entire theme park of emotions, sometimes snapping in and out of extremes at the flick of a lighting change. What emerges is a portrait of the artist as a force to be reckoned with. To see this vibrant, exuberant, rebellious figure reduced to a stooped and trembling shadow of himself, thanks to AIDS, is heart-breaking, and painfully portrayed.
Director Sarah-Louise Young keeps the contrasting moods and moments sharp, and Farrelly is friendly and fun, intense and, yes, a little intimidating. Confronted by his own mortality, Jarman confronts us with ours.
We come away with admiration for both Jarman and the actor who has channelled him so vividly. At the end, Jarman admonishes us to ‘be astonishing’.
And that’s exactly what Mark Farrelly has been.
Fabulous, thought-provoking stuff.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆☆