Last Saturday, the 18th, I was privileged enough to witness Gerard Logan’s one man The Rape of Lucrece, directed by Gareth Armstrong. I knew in advance of buying my ticket that the production is unique, as a very much lesser-know part of Shakespeare’s repitoire it has been rarely adapted and never before as a one man show. You may be dubious that a poem, within which there are of course two very distinct parts (Lucrece and Tarquin who rapes her) along with others, could work with just one man, but It had a very highly acclaimed run at Edinburgh last Summer and, ever the optimist, I suspended this scepticism and waited with excitement in the small, dark studio.
The poem, if you are unfamiliar with it as I will confess to being despite my great love of Shakespeare, concerns the legendary Roman figure of Lucretia. As the historical legend goes, her rape by the king’s son was the spark that started the revolution that brought down and banished the Roman Monarchy and established the Roman Republic. It is unlike what you would typically expect of Shakespeare, if you are viewing him from the canonical perspective. Whilst he is of course a powerful playwright in his element depicting tragedy and despair, it is rarely so graphic and alarming, particularly in the way it depicts sex. The closest link I think the poem has with his plays is in Richard III; the way he depicts explicit horror, tragedy and ‘evil’ characters and yet we are not repulsed but utterly fascinated. There is a famous painting of the rape, Tarquinius and Lucretia (15971), by Titan which I did know from before having actually seen it in it’s current location at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Image Credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)
To return to the performance, it genuinely was very impressive and captured the balance I have explored above perfectly, in a very passionate, intense and truly gripping performance from Logan.
The performance was what I would describe as ‘bare minimum’. There was also no set and no props but a single, white cloth. All the atmosphere, tension and horror were created purely with lighting and sound effects and his incredible performance.
He showed a deep and sincere understanding for what he delivered, as he played each character convincingly and with a heart and gut-wrenching earnestness. His Tarquin bellowed and ranted so that I felt knocked back in my seat, but yet subdued to whining and begging to the Gods in a way that could perhaps induce genuine pity if we did not know what he was about to perform. As for Lucrece, he demonstrated here his real skills, altering pitch, range, volume, gestures and mannerisms dramatically, sometimes as quickly as from line to line to perform the dialogue between them. A clever directional note here had him lift and bow his head at an angle such that the light would soften or cast dark shadows across his face, creating sympathy for the pure Lucrece and fear of the sinister yet fascinating Tarquin. In the light, the sweat on his face would shine like tears on Lucrece’s face. A beautiful, if unintentional, touch.
I thoroughly recommend seeing this piece if you can, keep an eye out for it! It truly brings the word of Shakespeare to life in a way you are unlikely to have encountered before. Shakespeare is rarely so toned down in it’s presentation and the techniques at work here are so simple and yet so encapsulating. There is no need to be concerned that the language may be intimidating, the story is easily accessible through Logan’s raw emotions; the haunting power of which is the main credit I have taken away from the performance.