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A distorted view of a very competent artist



Review by David Munro

I HAVE read Derek Jarman's biography, seen several of his films and sampled his written works; in particular, Derek Jarman's Garden, a moving account of his coming to terms with Aids.

I therefore considered I was well-equipped to review a theatrical oeuvre entitled Jarman Garden.

Alas, how wrong I was. What I sat through at Studio 3, at the Riverside Studios, was an arty crafty depiction of what someone had arbitrarily decided was a pictorial account of his life.

What did I learn? That he came from a middleclass background, had a stern father who was also a kleptomaniac, that he was pampered and indulged by his mother, aunt and sister, that he went to school where he was discovered in flagrante with another boy, sent for aversion therapy, was diagnosed with Aids, wanted to make films, but was frustrated by the establishment, and retired to the seaside, where he had a little house and a garden made from driftwood and other flotsam and jetsam.

All this depicted by mime, minimal dance steps and dialogue against the background of projected video representations of smoke, sky and flowers on a platform stage, sections of which were removed from time to time, to reveal gravel underneath, which the cast scratched about on to simulate the sound of the sea.

Oh yes, and to ensure that the audience was aware that this was a brave piece of Avante Garde theatre, one of the male cast stripped off and revolved slowly in the nude, holding up what looked like the remains of a white oilskin mac, presumable to depict that Jarman was also a dirty old man, which, if that was the interpretation intended, was an unjustifiable slur on a man who, if not in the forefront of the artistic world, was a very competent artist, writer, set designer, film-maker, and a decent and responsible human being.

This epitomises what I felt about the whole evening. It was a performance as though by school children distorting his life by selecting the more scabrous episodes and sniggering over it.

Then, in order to avert criticism, dressing it up in an arty framework and describing it is a 'Fantasia'. I would have preferred the word 'Farrago', followed by nonsense to describe it.

The cast, who I am sure are very talented, chose not to put their photos in the programme, and, as there was no credit as to who played which part, I am in no position to ascribe praise, or blame, to any individual.

There are four men, three young, who delineated the young Jarman and his lovers and a not-so-young man, who played the father, schoolmaster and the dying Jarman, none of which called for any great dramatic skills.

There was a young and older woman to portray the women in Jarman's life; mother, aunt, sister, doctor, nurse and groupie, where appropriate.

The fact they reminded me of Joyce Grenfell in one her more outré send ups of the Chelsea set - as did all the cast when in the mime mode - must, I am sure, be the fault of the artistic director, Ben Gove, rather than a result of their lack of talent.

The programme is helpful insofar as it indicates that the evening was devised by The Company, so the blame must fall full square on their shoulders, bare or otherwise.

I like to be able to applaud originality and enterprise, but when, as in this case, it results in an evening of twee camp, I must be permitted to refrain.

All I would say is that I feel if this had been performed in the real Jarman garden, the owner would have told them, in no uncertain tones, where to go, as, whatever else this troupe might have tried to do for him and his memory, his innate sense of style and taste survives in his work, and, to quote the song, 'They can't take that away from me'.

Jarman Garden, devised by the Company. Artistic Director, Ben Gove; Associate Director, Cass Fleming; Sceneographer, Erik Rehl; Sound, Adrienne Quartly; Lighting design, Mark Jonathan; Costume supervisor, Jo Worsley.
CAST: Nicholas Chambers; Martin Hyder; James Hyland; Nadia Morgan; Sally Mortemore; Thomas Power.
Co-production - Flaming Theatre, in association with Riverside Studios and Wisepart Productions. Studio 3, Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith, London, W8 9 RL. Feb 17 - March 6, 2004. Mon - Sat. 8pm. Mat. Wed, Feb 25 & Sat, Mar 6 at 3pm. Box Office: 020 8237 1111.

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