Simon Callow in Juvenalia

Juvenal is most likely a familiar name to many people and yet very few would claim to know much about him. Some might know that he is a satirist, others might know of his once-famously irate persona. For a now such obscure poet, he has bequeathed us a number of common phrases: rara avis (rare bird), bread and circuses and the question – ever a liberal favorite – “who will guard the guards?”

The pleasures of Juvenal lie more in the astonishing effects of his expression and his technical use of language than in actually finding him laugh-out-loud amusing.

But still, Juvenal is an obscure poet, now the domain of classicists, and thus Simon Callow’s decision to resurrect his 1976 one-man show – in which he dons the persona of the poet, ranting and reciting Peter Hall’s translation – might seem perplexing to some. It shouldn’t. One can hear in Callow’s Juvenal a rich and shocking voice. It is a voice of obscene hate, of demented and impish disgust, half-loathing, half-gleeful, smutty, smart, outrageously eloquent, but forever engaging its startling verbal gift with the gutter, the shitter and the whorehouse. As a literary voice one can hear its fiery echo in Swift, Rabelais, Celine and Amis.

The show has a simple setup: Callow stands on stage, tuxedoed, surrounded by a rather eclectic selection of items: palm-trees, a ruined head of a Roman statue in a basket, and the occasional sound of a passing car or motorbike. He stands, wanders around and recites. Callow performs with his characteristic aplomb and has cut up Juvenal’s text well, splicing various sections of the satires together so that we move quite seamlessly from rants against passive homosexuals to polemics against Greeks and insane tirades against women.

The major problem with this performance is that Juvenal simply is not very funny. The pleasures of Juvenal lie more in the astonishing effects of his expression and his technical use of language than in actually finding him laugh-out-loud amusing. This is a problem for a show marketed as a kind of Roman stand-up comedy. Judging from the audience response, it simply did not command laughter.

Callow has apparently deemed the time right for the return of his one-man Roman diatribe for reasons that seem as unclear now as they were in 1976. (The show was not received to critical acclaim then either.) This is worth seeing to hear the words of a now little-known ancient poet, but be prepared for homophobia, misogyny and very little comedy.

Reviews by Sarah Grice

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Glue

★★★
Assembly Hall

Simon Callow in Juvenalia

★★★
C venues - C nova

Icarus Falling

★★★★★
C venues - C

Mercury Fur

★★★★
Assembly George Square Gardens

Best of Burlesque

★★★
theSpace @ Venue45

Dido and Aeneas

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Simon Callow does stand-up comedy. Filthy, foul-mouthed, viciously funny, and deeply politically incorrect. The target: immigrants, plutocrats, women, gays. As last delivered in Rome AD 100. Juvenal was one angry white middle class male. In Juvenilia he tells it like it was. And is. The Writer, Juvenal born circa ad 55, wrote sixteen satires that attacked the decadence of Rome in its heyday. Here adapted by Richard Quick we are given a view into the moral decline that is as relevant now, as it was back then.

Most Popular See More

Heathers The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

SIX

From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets