Brighton Fringe

Fringe REVIEW: James Dean is dead! (Long live James Dean) @The Warren Theatre Box

Brian Butler May 25, 2018

It’s no coincidence that iconic movie star James Dean’s middle name was Byron – named after the equally iconic, young, charismatic gay poet.

“THOSE whom the Gods love, die young,” could equally apply to both geniuses – and playwright Jackie Scarvellis draws the parallel several times in this highly episodic look back at the Hollywood’s star’s short 24 year life.

Literally rising from the grave Dean, played beautifully by Kit Edwards lifts the lid on both New York and Hollywood in the 1950s in a pre-Weinstein era of sexual predation.

The play pulls no punches about the hustler life which Dean adopted. He repeatedly tells us “I do anything to get what I want ” – “your dick opens more doors than a pass key – it’s a Hollywood audition – a game . You walk out the bedroom, you walk out of Hollywood.”

The play depicts an atmosphere of greed, of grab and get in a period when America was paranoid post-war and when it felt like anyone could be President or a movie star. Bit like today then ? Yes indeed and of course the playwright draws clear parallels with what’s happening today. But we don’t see Dean as a victim – he’s always on top sexually and will take any kind of risk he can for the thrill.

But in Kit Edward’s subtle playing, we also see how unhappy, vulnerable and empty Dean really was. One of his biggest fears – “being fat and 50″. Well of course it was never to be.

While we can share vicariously in his explicitly described sexual adventures, we may not agree that the sex improved his acting as he claims. Others describe the adventurous young actor as “a talent but undisciplined” and Dean seems to have embraced this idea – making all his characters real by risk-taking.

Self-obsessed to the bitter end of his horrendous car crash, he seems more concerned to have lost his looks in the accident than that he lost his life.

But of course he hasn’t lost his life – he lives on in his films and his white tee shirt and 101 jeans, though he ends with the great fear of all stars – that one day he will be forgotten.

Kit Edwards is electrifying, hugely physically attractive, and manages the many mood swings with a style that is very easy to watch. If you sit near the front, you also get his full-on physical presence as he eyeballs you.

The show continues tonight (25) and 26 and 27 at the Warren Theatre Box.

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Review by Brian Butler