Danny is an ex-squaddie in recovery, coming to terms with the horrors and secrets lived with by members of the Armed Forces. He also appears to be in recovery from an addiction to toxic masculinity, whose malignant presence has made itself felt throughout his life, first in his own home and then in its natural home in the military. In Alex Martinez’s dynamic, if problematic play from 2014, “The Rose Of Jericho,” a former British soldier comes to finally realise that confession is good for the soul and that the pen is often mightier than the sword. While still packing a powerful punch, “The Rose Of Jericho” also reveals the opposing effects of time, showing how four years can have an ageing impact on a script, as well as showing how some performances just get better with age.
With Martinez eschewing narrative tension in favour of confessional chronology, Danny’s tale unfolds like a personal testimonial told during a group session for Masculinity Anonymous. Throughout, Danny dazzles as he relays his life story and insights, freely confessing his various dark secrets, beginning when he was just a young boy hating his mother’s weakness and idolising his aggressive father, through his violent experiences in the army, right up to an underdeveloped, and unconvincing, conspiracy theory ending. Throughout his life of real and near violence, Danny experiences three, or technically four, road to Damascus moments. Or rose of Jericho moments to be precise, where forgotten seeds of life come to flower amidst overwhelming cruelty. Meeting his wife Ger, a disturbing dream, and Wilfred Owen’s anti-war poem Dulce et Decorum est help Danny to separate the woods from the violent trees. And once he does, Danny becomes the man to take on The Man. That metaphor for all our woes who will rue the day when Danny releases all The Man’s shameful secrets unto the world, like a whistleblower, or a Wikileaks martyr, or a Netflix documentary.
Despite being steeped in verbal and physical abuse, “The Rose Of Jericho” is not really about masculinity, domestic violence, or returning soldiers, though you could be forgiven for thinking so. For these supply its heart and substance, lending “The Rose Of Jericho” a powerful, visceral strength. Yet these ultimately serve only as examples to illustrate Martinez’s central theme; how victims are made to feel responsible by the perpetrators for the crimes committed against them, whether those perpetrators be husbands, incompetent officers, rapist soldiers, or Governments and globalisation. A theme “The Rose Of Jericho” doesn't foreground or establish convincingly enough early on, causing the end to feel as if a movie about masculinity and the veteran experience had suddenly morphed into Snowden for the last ten minutes. Consequently, it helps to be aware of Edward Snowden in advance of “The Rose of Jericho,” an American whistleblower whose ripples we’re still being felt in 2014, in a time before Government sins were being tweeted, and forgotten, almost daily, the leaking of which having little noticeable impact.
Throughout, Danny’s one man monologue is delivered with the raw force of a wounded animal by an unforgettable Hely. Despite some self conscious physical flourishes - one leg permanently tilted onto the ball of the foot, like a coiled spring ready to lash out, which seems to suggest dressage almost as much as an undercurrent of danger, looking more uncomfortable than menacing - Hely proves to be a force of nature. With Hely, the eyes have it. As does the voice, which commands with an undisputed authority. If Martinez’s script is structurally problematic, it’s ending feeling like another story tagged on to Danny’s exploration of violence and masculinity, Martinez still delivers moments of searing insight and humour, which Hely renders powerful in his one man tour de force, compensating for many of the issues in Martinez’s script with his energised performance.
In the end, whistleblowing proves to be not so much a big reveal as an Achilles heel. A confusing, overriding frame, weak and badly attached at the end, through which all is retrospectively viewed if not always enhanced. Yet at its core, “The Rose Of Jericho's” searing exploration of how male violence is born, and bred, proves to be where the real power lies in this story of a man seeking to free himself of the sins of the father. Something Hely portrays with great conviction in a mesmerising performance.
“The Rose Of Jericho” by Alex Martinez, performed by Kevin Hely, presented by Theatre Ortas, runs at Theatre Upstairs until June 9
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