It definitely seems to be the season for drama festivals at the moment. The Brighton Fringe opened yesterday, The Space’s Foreword Festival is due next week and the small venue/big hitter the Jermyn Street Theatre are running their marathon Footprints Festival. This lasts no less than eleven weeks and reintroduces a live audience into the auditorium while also offering the option to access the material online. I had already made one brief “visit” to the latter to see Hole but thought this weekend I would aim for something a bit more substantial. The festival mostly consists of very short run pieces (often solo plays) but is anchored by thee plays which are running over several performances.
The first of these is Two Horsemen by Biyi Bandele. Let me say right off that this is not an easy play to follow but that it is not meant to be in the same way that Samuel Beckett never is. Indeed, Bandele’s play owes much to Beckett as he revives what now amounts to a classic twosome mired in some sort of limbo existence (see Waiting For Godot, see Endgame); they are a pair of battered souls who both love and hate each other as they struggle to survive. In this instance we have Lagbaja and Banza who co-exist in a rather sordid flat (the toilet is a bucket) either of whom can suddenly transmutate into someone else such as a father or wife or, at one stage, each other. Their dialogue is elliptical and full of hidden significance while outside their living quarters Armageddon seems to be occurring – so what happened to the other two horsemen, then?
Daon Broni and Michael Fatogun play the existentially challenged pair and do so with a high degree of energy and forcefulness. They relate some anecdotes based on half remembered events which while amusing are ultimately baffling, argue over this, that and the other and generally act as a thorn in each other’s sides. They repeatedly set and unset a table and make and unmake a bed all the while looking to break out of the circle of repetition in their actions and also their dialogue. The latter is the saving grace of this piece as the writing can be very sharp and the two actors deliver it crisply and with fine timing. However, and perhaps I’m missing something, I found it rather derivative and its lack of trajectory frustrating.
The second piece from Footprints could not have been more different – but, hey, diversity of material is a hallmark of a good festival. During the pandemic I’d already worked my way through the complete dramatic works of Shakespeare (click here) so in theory there was nothing left to see; I hadn’t really thought about the poetry though. There are certainly a couple of collections of the complete sonnets – I’d even contributed my own version of number 16 to the Show Must Go Online’s ongoing attempt. There are also five longer poems which still survive and one of these, The Rape Of Lucrece has been turned into a solo performance by Gerard Logan. As can be divined from the title, the piece deals with difficult subject matter. It is based on an historical event which happened in ancient Rome though Shakespeare’s sources would have been writing it all down several centuries later. Lucrece (sometimes known as Lucretia) is wife to a soldier Collatine. Fellow soldier Tarquin becomes obsessed with Lucrece when he visits the couple’s home and smitten with desire rapes her after ensuring her silence through threatened blackmail. Lucrece is a tragic heroine who pays the ultimate penalty for her guest’s attack and her plight still resonates today.
Logan gives a bravura performance of this long poem (265 stanzas at 7 lines a time = a heck of a lot to learn) inhabiting and bringing to life around ten different characters. That he does so on a bare stage with nothing more than a white shawl, precise delivery in a compelling voice and an absolute sense of narrative clarity makes for an interesting reading of this lesser known work which has more than a whiff of Titus Andronicus about it. But listening to a single voice for just shy of an hour, even in Logan’s very capable hands, is a big ask especially when the language is heightened and references may be somewhat obscure. Logan returns to the festival later in the season with Wilde Without The Boy, his dramatization of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis.
Production photos of Two Horsemen by Steve Gregson
Two Horsemen is available via the Jermyn Street website – click here. The Rape Of Lucrece has now finished its performances
The full programme for the Footprints Festival at Jermyn Street Theatre is here
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