Theatre Review - Jarman

Mark Farrelly in Jarman. Photo: Jacky B Summerfield

IN his one-man show Mark Farrelly threads together Derek Jarman’s own words to create an absorbing portrait of the iconic film-maker-artist and gay rights activist.

Jarman endured homophobia his entire life – from the derision of his father (an RAF pilot) to public hostility when he announced he was HIV positive. Farrelly picks up several echoes in his life – the early beatings he endured at boarding school when he was told he’d go blind and, years later, when suffering from Aids he lost his sight.

In Sarah Louise Young’s pacy production, we whizz through Jarman’s years at the Slade School of Art, his first job designing Don Giovanni for John Gielgud, working with Ken Russell and his own forays into film-making. For half his life his sexuality was considered criminal. Tom Lishman’s inventive soundtrack captures the club beats of the 1980s, when Jarman made pop videos for the Pet Shop Boys among others.

In 1986, Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive. He publicly declared his condition on television before retreating to Prospect Cottage, an old fisherman’s hut he bought in Dungeness, Kent. Here he found love, living platonically with his companion Keith, nicknamed HB, who effectively became his carer. As readers of his diaries will recognise, Jarman had a way with words. He described his illness as being like “a refugee in my own body”.

It’s all done with minimal props – a roll of brown paper, a torch, a sheet and a chair. Farrelly looks the part – dressed in a boiler suit – and captures Jarman’s charm and intensity, his energy and intelligence.

He reminds us that Jarman was as fine a wordsmith as he was an artist, ending with his memorable exhortation: “be astonishing”.

Until August 26

Originally published in Islington Tribune