REVIEW: Jarman @ Above The Stag

Brian Butler August 22, 2021

“You’re living ever less brave lives…I need to take you to some strange gay places” actor/writer Mark Farrelly tells us at the start of his astonishing 80 minute look back at the life of Queer film-maker, artist, activist, writer and gardener Derek Jarman.

Farrelly, who has other Queer characters  in his repertoire – writer/performer Quentin Crisp and comedian Frankie Howerd’s secret lover Dennis to name only two  – creates the world of Jarman in an explosive, physical, episodic style that the film-maker would have approved of.

The day before his show he had told me in an interview about the challenge  performing brings and how it has to make th actor both totally open and totally vulnerable. There are no hiding places  in this production. Director Sarah-Louise Young has Farrelly constantly on the move and we visit his famous Prospect Cottage garden in Dungeness, various film sets, Heaven night club, sexual encounters in toilets -and all done on a bare stage with a chair, a roll of brown paper, a sheet and a hand torch. It’s a truly amazing display of gripping, challenging and totally absorbing theatre, which the director and performer have pitched exactly right.

From Jarman’s awareness of his Queerness at a Church school, Farrelly builds a picture of a man who was both deeply creative and inventive but also assertive of who he was and what he had to say to us. If we need another clue, he looks straight at us after his tortuous death from Aids-related illness and says “ be astonishing”.

The mundane – what he calls “ the grey “ in life holds no interest. Here is a bold artist who straight out of the Slade School of Art is hired to design Don Giovanni  being directed by the great actor  Sir John Gielgud. Farrelly is good at Gielgud’s pinched, camp voice -maybe another show for the future ? But back to Jarman. This is a portrait full of fine detail. “We came to alter the world not tame it”, he says and as if to prove it he roars off to Hell, meeting film director Ken Russell and telling anecdotes of his designs for Russell’s outrageous The Devils.

”I’m always rebuilding the Emerald City”, he adds at another point and Farrelly skilfully creates the visceral feel of each episode in Jarman’s life with an appropriate style and pace.

Told as a child that his sexual activity “will make you go blind “ by his vicious teachers, he turns the wheel full-circle by indeed going blind because of his sexual activities- or more accurately as a side-effect of AIDS. The section of the play dealing with his devastating deterioration through the illness is graphic in words and action but it’ s important to remember this was the fate of many before combination therapy and other treatments.

In the end what Farrelly shows us is Jarman’s humanity – his ability to love, laugh and hopefully change the world.

Jarman was part of the Not The Edinburgh Fringe season at Above The Stag, Vauxhall. For the rest of the season go to,uk  

To catch Mark Farrelly’s other shows check his website at

And look out for my feature on him in Scene magazine