‘The Rape of Lucrece’ is one of Shakespeare’s least known works. It shouldn’t be. Yes, it’s a grim narrative poem about a Roman Queen who has her virtue taken away from her in the ‘blackest of night’ to a Prince who, quite frankly – sounds a bit like the 40 year old virgin – a bit desperate, a bit weak in mind, but strong in body and so force and manipulation are his only methods of communicating with someone sexually. That being said, Shakespeare is undeniably a wizard with words. He’s a master of the craft, which is probably why 500 years later his work is still so relevant. It transcends the ages and speaks to us as well now as well as it did then (once you get past the doths and thees). Gerard Logan performs his one man show with such passion and dedication that the 6 characters he plays (one being a woman, and oddly convincingly) become relatable. As cliché as it sounds, he really does create ‘the world of the play’ (or rather, poem) – the imagery contained within the piece really speaks for itself, the words fall off his tongue with the grace and ease only a trained RSC actor can bring to the stage; and you believe him, you believe his characters, and you feel for them. Shakespeare has compassion for even the rapist – who you want to hate because you know he has committed this heinous crime, but who you manage to feel pity for, because once the deed is done, not only can he not take it back, but he has to live with it for the rest of his days.
This production came to Lincoln following a 5* run at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and sell-out performances across London since then. Gerard Logan sat down to talk to me about both the work and his feelings on its subject matter.
What made you choose to dramatise this particular poem?
I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare in my time, and I used to read a lot of other poems – ‘A Lover’s Complaint‘, ‘Phoenix and the Turtle‘, ‘Venus and Adonis‘, and then I came across this. It was one of those moments where I thought, why hasn’t anyone done this solo before? The RSC did it a few years ago with 6 actors but to me it seemed effortless. As though I got lucky first. Some say Shakespeare is the greatest mind of the millennium, I don’t know about that but the appreciation he has for the dreadfulness of rape and the decencies we owe each other as humans and even as animals is astounding. The whole piece is very Macbethian in feel.
How much of your body language is important, and how much do the words stand alone on the stage?
99% words 1% me. I’m actually reading the biography, well, autobiography of Marlon Brando at the moment. He says how many people talk about how brilliant he was in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ but you have to appreciate the brilliance of the writer (or writers) and adhere to the recipe of the words. You need a respect not just for the meaning but for the sound. Try to rise to the level of the words and you will succeed. I call it verbal ballet because it’s not naturalistic. I find if you try to naturalise Shakespeare one will always come a-cropper. If an audience went to see Romeo and Juliet and there were actors on stage dancing as though they were in a nightclub it would take away from the meaning of the words, same as if someone went to a nightclub and saw people dancing as though they were in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s characters are larger than life, and you have to believe in them. When Macbeth says ‘… pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin, horsed Upon the sightless couriers of the air …’ you as an audience member have to be in the air with him.
Do you think this poem can relate to modern society?
I think what Shakespeare does is have an understanding and an appreciation for the dreadfulness of the act of rape, an appreciation we do not have in 21st Century society. I think, don’t quite me on this, but I think the term for rape is less than the term for armed robbery. Not that I’m condoning armed robbery but when you think of the genuine destruction a thing like rape does to someone be it man on woman, man on man, woman on man or woman on woman it’s just horrific. What this man does to this other human being is dreadful. It’s not clever, manly, butch – it is foul. But Shakespeare has compassion for Tarquin, he himself detests what he has done but, like with Macbeth, once he has done it he cannot take it back. Tarquin plays on the shame that will bestow Lucrece, her children, their friends, when he says that if she does not let him do this then he will kill her and kill some poor man from the court amd place him naked in her arms – that’s psychological torture. That horrible thing – when he’s in the room, oh I’ll just … walk around. It’s a really genuine, dirty invasion of someone’s personal space. He has so much implicit enjoyment of his physical power over her that after the deed is done he is in such turmoil over his act. Like with Macbeth, ‘O full of scorpions is my mind dear wife!’
What do you do to prepare yourself for a performance like this?
Erm (pause) stretch a bit? I tend to do two word runs in my mind. But the words are infinite, all encompassing. Do I psyche myself up? No. I want the words to come from the nose. Let the words lead you.
It is quite plain to see that for this actor his performance is a labour of love. He admits he believes he will be performing it until the day he dies, and quite happily too. Passion drives him to continue to perform it, and each time it will be different. No two performances are the same, I can say that for certain (being a drama student at times you know what you just did was good and at other times you know what you just did was utter bollocks). It’s his reverence for the magic and power of the words that I find so appealing. It is really impressive that one man – who looks like he’s wearing green pyjamas and carrying a large pashmina (which becomes a bedcover, a dress, and finally the woman herself) can involve you so deeply in a story which was written so long ago and which (undoubtedly) is quite hard to follow. Not everyone speaks Middle English do they? That being said, if you’re scared of Shakespeare it’s okay, most people are. I assure you, you will understand this, and you might even enjoy it. Look it up or something, I dare you.
For further performance dates of Gerard Logan’s adaptation click here.