JUVENALIA – Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

THE GRUMPY OLD ROMAN RETURNS…
Terrible times we live in. A decadent civilization, a crumbling empire, hypocrites in power, toadies fawning on the rich, women strangers to chastity and hard work, who live obsessed with celebrity gossip , hairdos and “crushes on ham actors”. There’s nobody much believing in the old religion, cheats and scroungers declare fake dependants, ghastly foreigners show off, and there’s urban racket everywhere “How much sleep , I ask you, can one get in lodgings here?” cries our host, to a roar of laughter from a hungover Fringe audience. Even the canapés these days are ghastly – “half an egg stuffed with a prawn, faugh!”.
The times he excoriates are two millennia past, the decadent noisy city is Rome; the satirist snarling at it is Juvenal. It is 38 years since Simon Callow first strode onto an Edinburgh stage, scowling, in the character of the Roman satirist Juvenal: now with a mop of curly white hair and an easier route to summoning up the eternal grumpy-old-man, he probably suits it even better . This revival of Richard Quick’s adaptation of the writings (translated, with wonderful vigour, by Peter Green) certainly roars along. He’s an equal-opportunities insulter, is Juvenal, and while women get a pretty rough deal so do the gay collectors of pretty boys – “Soon” he snarls “male brides will yearn for a mention in the Daily Gazette”. His explicit remarks about their sufferings from piles and the boredom of slaves tasked to serve their needs remain quite shocking enough to answer my vague wondering about why we never did any Juvenal for A level at the dear old convent…
His lines, though, have fed into the language – “who will guard the guards?” ‘Bread and circuses” “A healthy mind in a healthy body”. And the skill of Callow’s presentation, and the structuring of this bravura character recitation (directed here by Simon Stokes) is that it lightens and sweetens towards the end. Just as you think you’ve had enough grumping, Callow pauses and looks, reflectively, into an imaginary mirror to mourn that “all old men look the same..an aged baboon, trembling lips…impotent dodderers, senscent in mind…”. And that those who live long will live through grief: bury sons, wives, sisters. So live well, friends: it ends with a gentle, wearily lyrical evocation of that healthy mind and body, needing just simple food with friends, sun on your back..and “a valiant heart.”
http://www.edfringe.com to 24 August

rating:   four  (well, three plus a virtuoso performermouse)  3 Meece RatingMusicals Mouse width fixed

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