The Rape of Lucrece

Wed 30th November 2011

reviews

James Fennemore

at 07:43 on 1st Dec 2011

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As far as entertainment goes, rape is a bit of a touch-and-go subject. It seems you’ve either got to be Jimmy Carr or William Shakespeare to get away with it. Gerard Logan’s performance of ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ is an exquisite hour of first-class theatre, doing ample justice to the poetic mastery of the work.

The storytelling is magnificent. Logan presents us with an utterly engrossing rendition, shifting between character and emotion with seamless precision and verve. He slides between the menacingly passionate Tarquin, the violated Lucrece, and the appalled Collatine with deft characterisation. Each in turn comes to life through the subtleties of voice that Logan brings out from the text. What initially felt like something of a daunting hour of sixteenth-century poetry shot past, with each scene as unreservedly captivating as the last.

Logan’s staging is simple and successful; he prowls the stage alone, with no distractions or superfluous baggage. The words alone are left to conjure a powerful visual impression of the narrative. Heightened moments of tension are supplemented by eerie, sonorous music, meticulously developed and timed to fit the action and atmosphere of the poetry.

Yet my star rating seems oddly immaterial. Reactions to the piece are likely to vary extensively. The quality is unchallengeable. The breadth of appeal is not. This is not conventional drama. Theatre-goers hoping to see a theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s poem will be disappointed. It is one man and a poem. The style of Logan’s recitation is undeniably histrionic – the sort of ‘High Shakespeare’ that many love to loathe. It harks of a more traditional form of entertainment. One cannot help but feel that the performance would not have seemed out of place in sixteenth-century England, or, for that matter, in the Roman Forum.

The production will not be universally enjoyed. It’s just a question of individual taste. If the idea of an hour of relentless, no-frills recitation galls your blood, I’d give it a miss. If it doesn’t, then the captivating power of Logan’s superb performance is hard to match.

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Gavin Elias

at 16:34 on 1st Dec 2011

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Shakespeare has never been one to skirt troubling issues, and as his brooding narrative poem ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ dives headlong into the throes of uncontrollable avarice, torturous self-loathing, and traumatic sexual violation, it’s intriguing to see how such brutal material is handled in this first ever stage adaption of the work. Happily, the answer is ‘masterfully’, as the play (directed by Gareth Armstrong) outdoes itself, offering a harrowing and powerful interpretation that, true to the text, focuses firmly on the thoughts, emotions, and ramifications associated with the eponymous crime. Perhaps what’s most surprising, however, is the choice to stage the proceedings as a one-man showcase – one in which actor Gerard Logan portrays both perpetrator and victim.

It’s a risky move, but one that succeeds wonderfully due in large part to a superb performance from Logan. Shifting fluidly between personas through effortless changes in tone, mannerism, and movement, he manages to both narrate and enact the unfolding action in a way that cunningly fuses exposition with characterisation and propels the play forward. Most importantly, though, he excels at bringing the two protagonists to life. As the predatory Tarquin, whose leering countenance dominates the first half of the play, he is nothing short of stellar; in a dynamic performance that vaults from tortured equivocation to raging desire and back again in an instant, he limns a nuanced and eerily realistic portrait of an individual torn apart by lust, fear, and moral qualms. And when, later in the piece, the focus shifts to Lucrece, there is no discernible drop in calibre, as Logan’s choking, grief-stricken cadences yield deep insight into her traumatised psyche – suggesting both her anguished shame and steely resolve.

The directorial choices, as mentioned earlier, account for the other half of the play’s success. In particular, the decision to have one actor play every character resonates on a number of thematic levels. By linking Lucrece and Tarquin through a common performer, Armstrong emphasises the perverse interconnectedness of their situation, even as he seemingly muses on the stark duality of human nature via the ultimate commonality of the pure and the repugnant. The absolute minimalism on display in terms of set design also works well, as the plain black stage reinforces the importance of the evocative language and nuanced performance in conveying the story, while also offering plenty of open space for Logan’s various characters to writhe about in. Similarly, the lighting and sound do not draw much attention to themselves; while sound is used sparingly and effectively to establish mood, its main function (along with lighting) is to indicate day-to-night transitions and similar changes. The degree to which all these decisions coalesce certainly speaks to the skill of the director, for in paring the theatrical experience down to its skeleton, he strips away any peripheral distractions and allows the audience to connect intimately with the emotions of the story, accordingly imbuing the experience with a rare, primal power.

In short, 'The Rape of Lucrece' can be labelled nothing less than a terrific success – one that is all the more notable for its originality and willingness to tackle its uncomfortable subject material head-on. By staying true to the extremes of the original work, the production retains the full brunt of the poem’s painful insights; in depicting the absolutes of human behaviour, it offers up a sobering cocktail of brutality and poignancy. And while it’s certainly not a play for everyone, it is unmistakably an audacious and stunning piece of theatre – one that delivers all the symbolic resonance and emotional heft this grim work deserves.

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