London is full of many hidden gem theatres in the most unlikely of places. Located just a stones throw from the Almeida in Islington, the theatre King's Head Theatre has been entertaining audiences in the back room of a pub since 1970. it is currently playing host to a season of shows called ‘Boys! Boys! Boys!’ The overarching theme of these shows is male experience, however each one is produced or directed by women and the majority are performed by LGBTQ+ creatives.
As part of the season, Mark Farrelly brings his new solo play Jarman to the theatre, following a UK tour over the last year. Telling the story of the life of the iconic painter, writer, film-maker and activist Derek Jarman, this play charts his highs and lows, culminating with his tragic death from an AIDS-related illness.
Given the knowledge Mark is performing 2 separate one-man plays concurrently at the King's Head Theatre (the other being Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, reviewed by me last year) really is a testament to his talent. Farrelly is a truly charismatic and captivating performer - as Jarman, he speaks directly to the audience, sometimes eliciting responses, in a truly intimate and nuanced portrayal of the character. His range as a character actor is admirable and leads to some sudden and extreme mood changes as he takes us through Jarmans varied life.
The writing can prove inconsistent and messy at times. Also written by Farrelly, nobody will be able to bring his words to life as brilliantly as he can. Sadly though, I was longing for the words to be a bit stronger. While there are some great moments in the show (one highlight is a brilliant pre-recorded message changing references to homosexuality to heterosexuality), other moments fall a bit flat.
Farrelly is at his best when he is breaking away from script to interact with an audience member, be it to comment on their appearance or have them help him with a prop. This naturalistic approach creates a sense of interactivity, however this does become inconsistent in tone, and the chanting at one part does feel a bit too panto-esque.
Directed by Sarah-Louise Young (Herself a fantastic performer. Check out her incredible An Evening Without Kate Bush), the play is performed with a very minimalistic approach, with few props to play with. Not much is needed though as Farrelly can carry the production himself. A clever use of sound throughout the piece does add to the atmosphere though.
It’s important to support the smaller venues up and down the country as theatre is still in an incredibly fragile place. Whether you see this show or another, pop down to the Kings Head Theatre or one of your locals tucked away in the back room of a pub. It may have been a sweaty box in there last night, with Farrelly himself calling it “The Kings Head Sauna” but in a sense, it added to the experience. Sometimes, you don’t need the glitz and glamour of the West End, simply sweating away in the back room of a pub in Islington is enough.
Jarman was definitely an interesting show, completely carried by its remarkable writer and performer Mark Farrelly who is fittingly astonishing. However, it did feel inconsistent and didn’t grab me like I had hoped, however. When compared to Farrelly’s other show, this couldn’t quite match the high bar that genius production set. Still a pleasant show in itself, it is definitely worth a watch. Just make sure to bring a fan with you!
Jarman plays at the Kings Head Theatre until August 26th. For tickets to that and other shows in their ‘Boys! Boys! Boys’ season head to https://kingsheadtheatre.com
Photos by Jacky B Summerfield