Theatre review: A Generous Lover, Summerhall

From Greek myths to Hollywood glamour. Picture: Contributed
From Greek myths to Hollywood glamour. Picture: Contributed
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“Maybe madness is always a little seductive,” muses La JohnJoseph, a short way into this elegant, incisive and intoxicating solo show. It’s a latter-day riff on the Orpheus myth, with JohnJoseph a wry and glamorous Eurydice, part golden-age Hollywood vamp, part witchy aristo, part street-savvy queer.

A Generous Lover, Summerhall (Venue 26) ****

At this point of the tale, Orpheus – the name given here to JohnJoseph’s real-life partner of seven years – has been getting unrealistically overexcited about approaching Dionne Warwick to sing in his no-budget student film and generally going a bit over the top about how talented he is. So far, so seductive – the generous lover of the title is mania itself, with its promises of greatness and guarantees of success.

But it’s downhill from there, all the way down to the underworld of acute mental illness, institutionalisation and related challenges to empathy and identity itself.

This latest solo show from JohnJoseph powerfully mobilises the distinctive forms and sensibilities that make them such a rich, compelling artist.

There’s the chic and charismatic stage presence; the fusion of witty, acerbic storytelling with resonant, quavering cover versions (including Warwick, Kate Bush and Sufjan Stevens); and the deft mobilisation of registers ranging across classical mythology, cinematic glamour, theoretical discourse, Catholic dogma and Scouse nous.

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It’s all used here in the service of a deeply humane story in which – flipping the mythological script – it’s Eurydice who must journey among the damned for Orpheus’s sake JohnJoseph renders Orpheus’s mental institution with vivid, faintly surreal detail, animating a range of other patients and a no-nonsense fellow visitor.

It’s a bravura piece that provocatively links insanity, fame, art, class, queerness and politics, asking what’s at stake in accepted divisions of the normal and the mad.

And the writing is a joy: doctors “sweep through the wards once or twice a day like medieval bishops”.

• Until 26 August, 4;10pm.