Edinburgh in August plays host to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an onslaught of theatre of every shape, size and variety. Though typically seen as a vehicle for up-and-coming playwrights and new theatre companies, Shakespeare is no stranger. Posters for traditional productions of Macbeth, Othello, and Love’s Labour’s Lost (to name but a few), dot the fringe venues. Comic takes on Shakespeare are common as well—this year’s Shakespeare for Breakfast is a spoof of Macbeth, served with croissants and coffee. But at the Zoo Southside is a one-man performance of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works: The Rape of Lucrece. Though not a “traditional” choice of text (Rape of Lucrece is a narrative poem, not one of Shakespeare’s plays), performer Gerard Logan, under the direction of Gareth Armstrong, mines the text for its dramatic potential. He effectively portrays the characters represented, all while paying careful attention to Shakespeare’s language.
After the success of his narrative poem Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare composed The Rape of Lucrece. The poem tells the story of Lucretia (Lucrece), wife to Collatine. Upon seeing Lucrece, Tarquin (son of the Roman emperor and friend to Collatine) decides to rape her. The poem details the initial meeting, Tarquin’s decision to rape Lucrece, the assault in Lucrece’s bedchamber, Lucrece’s subsequent distress, and finally, her suicide. The poem is composed in iambic pentameter, with an ABABBCC rhyme scheme. Unlike in some of Shakespeare’s other earlier work, in which he writes in rhymed couplets (parts of Comedy of Errors or Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance), the rhymes of Lucrece (when spoken) do not come across as forced or harsh to the ear.
The performance space is a small room inside the Zoo Southside venue. Logan enters wearing loose black trousers and a black shift. His feet are bare. A large white cloth hangs over his shoulders. A brief few measures of ominous, clanging music (designed by Simon Slater) echo in the space before Logan jumps right into the text. Logan clearly enunciates every word—it is obvious he has been with this text for a long time, excavated it for detail and meaning. Every syllable is given proper attention. The performance lasts almost a full sixty minutes. Of the original text (about 1800 lines) Logan performs around two-thirds of it (roughly 1300 lines). Remarkable is Logan’s ability to hold the audience’s attention. He employs the white cloth at different moments to suggest characters or props. The cloth serves as the bed sheets protecting Lucrece from her attacker. Later, the cloth suggests a sheet of paper on which Lucrece writes a letter, and finally it transforms into the body of Lucrece herself, gently cradled by her father.
What is so unsettling from the performance is the beauty and precision with which the words are spoken, in contrast to the content of the words themselves. Shakespeare’s verse, and Logan’s performance of it, are masterfully constructed and executed. But the language-meaning is violent, and the action it describes is horrific. As a performance piece, The Rape of Lucrece works well in this one-man format. Logan’s rendering of the text engages while providing an opportunity to see and hear one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works.