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James Dean Is Dead, (Long Live James Dean) | Review

James Dean Is Dead, (Long Live James Dean)
James Dean Is Dead, (Long Live James Dean)

Ever heard of Bikram yoga?” asks Adam Spreadbury-Maher, artistic director of the King’s Head Theatre, in reference to the style of yoga conducted in a room heated to around 40 degrees Celsius (why don’t more artistic directors take to the stage and introduce themselves before an opening night performance?). “Well, this is Bikram theatre!” came the punchline, as unseasonably warm temperatures on this press night continued to make for uncomfortable audience experiences. But it proved to be quite apt. James Dean Is Dead! (Long Live James Dean) is a production that sizzles in a fittingly brisk whistle-stop tour of both the personal and professional lives of James Dean (Kit Edwards).

Dean’s confidence and assertiveness is distinctively American – or at least distinctly un-British – Jackie Skarvellis’ (1942-2016) script has him knowing he’s talented. There’s an important caveat, however, which the show’s title sort of gives away: this version of James Dean is looking back at his life from beyond the grave. Whether he’s in paradise, purgatory or just in another dimension is anyone’s guess. In any event, it is not a simple case of having delusions of grandeur – the play references the box office successes and the opinions of others. One does occasionally feel, however, that things need to be taken with a pinch of salt; ‘occasionally’ being the operative word in a narrative where Edwards’ Dean isn’t afraid to look an audience in the eye and say that making a success of his chosen career wasn’t at all easy.

The willingness to do what needed to be done in order to secure work in Hollywood demonstrates is, in a way, admirable, but by modern standards, rather shocking. He speaks of “the smile of consent”, inasmuch as he knows what he has to do to get on the big screen. In short, there’s exploitation of actors’ desperation, and if he wouldn’t jump into bed with certain key influencers (“No names, but do take my word for it”), someone else would. “You walk out the bedroom, you walk out of Hollywood.” I wonder what Dean would make of the #MeToo movement today.

I am a great believer in seeing a show without necessarily knowing anything about it beforehand, and yet be able to follow proceedings. This production succeeds in taking its audience through Dean’s life story, going through a range of emotions from the euphoric to the fearful. He lived for the moment but was concerned about his legacy. As befits the man, Edwards’ Dean has an excellent stage presence, and the engagement with the audience makes the production very watchable. Well-paced and well-structured, this is a bold and unrestrained look at the life of someone taken well before their time.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

James Dean Is Dead, (Long Live James Dean) is a timely look at how the film industry uses sex, drugs and power to make and break careers. As James Dean, Hollywood’s hottest star, steps out of his crashed car he looks back on his short life in no-holes-barred look at the life of an icon. A powerful one-man show examining Hollywood’s value system and its effect.

Written by Jackie Scarvellis who sadly passed away in 2016, Jackie had left money to help fund this production. Starring Kit Edwards and directed by Peter Darney.

James Dean Is Dead, (Long Live James Dean)
The King’s Head Theatre 26 – 29 July
Edinburgh Festival C Venues Aquila 19 – 27 August
By Jackie Skarvellis I Directed by Peter Darney

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