Never underestimate the power or repercussions of a gift. In 2011, writer/performer Sam Rowe was given a copy of Denton Welch’s journals in which he records his lonely existence in rural Kent and his heartbreaking love affair with reckless land-boy Eric Oliver. Rowe immediately saw the potential of this work and went on to create the stage adaptation,
Sensitive, sympathetic and subtle performance
The steeply raked seating of the Anatomy Lecture Theatre at Summerhall always provides a peculiar dimension to performances, particularly enhancing those that have a didactic tone or explanatory note to them. In this case the audience peers from a height, as voyeurs into the revelations of a secretive life but also sits up attentively to hear history related.
Sam Rowe has an easy-listening voice with clear enunciation and good projection; his sense of phrasing and timing is particularly effective in the moments of humour. His idiosyncratic voices and accents create the characters that emerge in the story, making them easily recognisable. For further clarity he uses small vases and pots to represent their interactions; an intriguing, captivating and somewhat amusing device that approaches puppetry.
The set is a small clutter of drawing-room paraphernalia: books, an old chair and a period table lamp with a flowery shade that perfectly dates it. To confirm the age, Kathleen Ferrier is often heard singing in the background. The music is not random; she laments “What is life to me without thee?”. Rowe moves around this area creating multiple locations that turn this monologue into a one-man-play.
The story itself is a historical vignette of the days before being gay was legal let alone socially acceptable. Welch suffered emotionally as a consequence but from the age of twenty he also bore interminable pain after being hit by a car. The medical repercussions ultimately led to his premature death at the age of thirty-three. The themes of this work, however, are eternal. Loneliness, not fitting into the world and craving a better more fulfilled life beset all people at various times.
Denton and Me occupies seventy-minutes which is challenging for a solo actor. In the hands of someone less accomplished it might not work so well but Sam Rowe fills the slot admirably with his sensitive, sympathetic and subtle performance.