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  • Miles Hedley

JARMAN at Greenwich Theatre

Updated: May 24, 2022

Visionary film-maker Derek Jarman became the ultimate icon of iconoclasm before his life was cruelly cut short by AIDS. Yet he packed into a three-decade career more creativity, more living and more truth than most people could manage in twice the time.

His extraordinary personality and achievements were brilliant captured in Mark Farrelly’s one-man-show Jarman, which was staged by Greenwich Theatre on what would have been the great man’s 80th birthday.

Farrelly – last seen at this theatre with his wonderful Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope – led us on a dazzling tour through Jarman’s life from harrowing boarding school abuse to living legend by way of prolific inventiveness, wild Soho bacchanals, corporate clashes, courageous defiance and, finally, the discovery of true love and relative peace at his beach home next to a nuclear power station.

One of Jarman’s early jobs was as a designer on Ken Russell’s controversial epic The Devils, during which the famously flamboyant director told him: “Darling, be astonishing – or fuck off.” It became Jarman’s motto and, as Farrelly so neatly showed, it helped drive him on to ever greater artistic heights, even though the film and art establishment often railed against him.

Farrelly stressed not only the importance of Jarman’s films such as Jubilee, Caravaggio, Edward II and Blue but also rightly paid tribute to his fearless campaigning for gay rights as the AIDS epidemic struck in the 1980s and destroyed thousands of lives including, in 1994, his own.

And lest you think this was a tale of unremitting gloom, it wasn’t – Jarman’s larger-than-life spirit could find humour in even the darkest corners of disaster.

As with his play about Quentin Crisp and an earlier tribute to comedian Frank Howerd, Farrelly has produced a fabulous portrait of a true original – witty, warm, wise, provocative, prodigiously talented and brutally honest. Jarman would have loved it.

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