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Interview: Simon Callow on his new fringe show Juvenalia

The gay thespian explains why his current run in Edinburgh is all about UKIP...


Simon Callow became one of Britain's first actors to come out, decades ago. Also decades ago, he first performed the Roman character of Juvenal: a man angry at the way society around him is changing.

Simon says that this story has never been so relevant. In the face go same-sex marriages, the 'UKIP man' feels the battle they've been waging for decades is finally lost.

"My show is an adaptation of the 16 Satires of Juvenal, who was middle-class, very dispossessed and angry about what was happening in Rome in his time - immigrants, women, gays and the new rich people taking over his class. He explained himself in a number of extremely angry and not very funny satires.
 
"I think that now, there are even more angry, middle-class men that are raging against the machine all around them - and now they’ve actually formed themselves into a political party [UKIP]. Juvenal doesn’t restrain himself at all, when he attacks something he goes for it, and so you see the awesome force that’s driving him. 
 
"There are people out there who simply can’t tolerate what’s happened to Britain, and that’s what Juvenal felt about Rome."
 
Simon recalls how his aunt was such a character, angry at the world and they way things were going.

"In particular my aunt, who was a very strong, outspoken woman, who owned a business. She raged against everything that was happening in Britain. To her, Margaret Thatcher was a dangerous red."

Nowhere was this more relevant to Simon than in the limited relationship he shared with his father.

"My father had lived in Africa, where he had servants and disproportionately high income for the work that he was doing. He lead the life of Larry. And then his life in Zambia came to an end. Like Juvenal, my father was absolutely appalled with the way England had gone. When he left, people knew their place, and were respectful. To him, ‘New England’, with all these black faces, one-way streets and pushy women was an intolerable place.
 
"I wish they wold wake up and smell the coffee, but they don’t. They just yearn for this more or less non-existent past, in which a lot of people were crushed, put down and unable to fulfil their lives. Anybody who was different was in trouble. My father was the ‘good old English boy’. It is a bit tragic in a way, and in Africa his position was absolutely pathetic, because they offered him a deal, in that there were double wages if he were to teach his successor the job."

His father would never find out he's gay, nor see the great heights of his career.
 
"My relationship with my father was not so strong. I never told him that I was gay, I don’t know what he would have said if I had. I can tell everybody else, but God knows what my father would have done.I could have tried to make him understand, but I don’t think he would have done very well. He got into a groove that he couldn’t get out of."
 
There's an important message to the play. And any UKIP, angry white men inclined types are very much welcome to watch his Edinburgh show. We're all stronger for seeing a broader world, SImon argues.

"Juvenal comes on to entertain you with his scandalous views, which is what a lot of comedians do. 'In your face': those three words could have been invented for Juvenal. 
  
What I hope is that despite himself, Juvenal constantly shows how vulnerable he is. This is all coming from a bruised heart and a bitter personal experience. Behind all of that is a vision of life, which he articulated."

Juvenalia is on until 25 August at the Assembly Hall. Tickets are available at the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Words: Benjamin Butterworth @benjaminbutter

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