31 January 2022 would have been his eightieth birthday and this celebration should really been called “An Evening with Derek Jarman”.
The first half gave us Mark Farrelly’s one man, one act play, Jarman. I reviewed this for Sardines in November when it began its current tour at Bridge House Theatre, Penge and happily gave it four stars. It has now bedded down well, become more assured. It presents the life story of this artist, film maker, gardener, gay rights activist and Aids victim with vivid passion – and, it seems, real accuracy. After the interval there were speeches from a group of people who had all known and worked with Jarman in real life. Several said that they felt – through Farelly’s play and acting talent – that Derek Jarman was definitely present at this, the birthday party he didn’t live to attend.
It is interesting to see Jarman a second time in a completely different sort of setting. No longer are we in a basic, sittingroom-sized black box. Now we’re in a traditional, middle-sized theatre theatre with rows of raked seating (about two thirds full – very gratifying) and the action takes place on a big thrust stage playing area. That means much more space for Farrelly to occupy – and he does, still with his simple props: one chair, a roll of brown paper, a torch and a gauzy sheet. There is scope here for the lighting to be more sophisticated too and I loved the way his figure was sometimes shadowed and huge on the back wall.
Farrelly is a remarkable actor. I’ve now seen him in action on four occasions and recently interviewed him face to face. He brings an extraordinary, glittering edge and sense of danger to everything he does. And the subtlety of his voice work is terrific. Jarman, for example, gets a resonant, middle class, public school-educated voice without being plummy. To borrow a term often used by actors, it’s utterly “truthful”.
The second half of Mr Jarman’s birthday party was uplifting and celebratory. David Mansell, writer, producer and director, whom Jarman called “Ginger Bits”, for example, remembered Jarman coming to the University of Kent to give a talk and later inviting him to Prospect Cottage which led to Mansell working with Jarman on two films and cutting his professional teeth. Almost every speaker mentioned Jarman’s generosity and kindness which sat along with his glee, impatience and polymathy. Then there was David Meyer who played Ferdinand in Jarman’s film The Tempest opposite Toyah Willcox as Miranda. He was very funny about Jarman’s insistence that he should walk naked out of the North Sea. Speaker after speaker talked of Jarman’s commitment to fighting for gay rights and for the grace with which he accepted his terminal illness. Jarman was the first national figure to admit openly that he had HIV/Aids which helped and supported thousands of others.
Peter Tatchell remembered the 1992 Outrage! March which led to Jarman’s arrest under a centuries old law which meant it was illegal to demonstrate within half a mile of the Houses of Parliament. Jarman, he told us, refused to accept a caution because that would have been an admission of guilt. Instead he told the police to do their work. In the end he was released without charge.
The whole audience sang Happy Birthday and I’m pretty sure many lumps had to be swallowed in many throats.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/jarman-2/