Lennox Theatre, February 29


Luka Lesson takes us From Plato’s Symposium in 416 BC to riots on the streets of Athens today. He leads us through the seven categories of platonic love, ending with Agapi, the universal, most selfless form, and Martin Luther King’s typically lyrical and sagacious take: that, in part, Agapi is “creative, redemptive goodwill for all men” and “an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return”.

This would already make for an ambitious play, even without Lesson devising most of it as rap. Yes, for nearly 70 minutes he commands the stage while rapping about philosophy, history, politics and the manifold nature of love. Seldom is the delivery rapid-fire: the emphasis is not on the beats, but on a unique epic narrative poem, delivered with a voice and presence capable of casting and holding a spell for most of the piece’s duration.

Luka Lesson. Photos: James Humberstone.

Composer James Humberstone’s shrewd underscore rises and falls with the dramatic contours, while never obscuring the words, and three or four times resolves itself into actual songs, providing respite from the rapping’s verbal density. The music is realised by multi-instrumentalist Greta Kelly and May Lyn Chew (laptop and vocals – whose pretty voice is like porcelain on the point of cracking).

If anyone’s been out to lunch for two-and-a-half millennia, Plato’s Symposium is his fictional account of a lengthy, boozy debate between seven key characters about love’s guises, with Lesson zeroing in on Socrates, who tells of the wisdom on the subject imparted to him by Diotima.

Lesson intersperses rapped reductions of the Symposium with the passion of Sofia and Pavlos, the metaphorical fire of which is set against the Molotov cocktails and police baton charges in a modern-day Athens where Agapi is in short supply.

Lesson’s writing can be so beautiful that when, for instance, Sofia and Pavlos achieve climax, “their souls start to cross over from the limits of their skin”. Elsewhere he tries to fly too close to the tempting illumination of universality, and his work’s hallmark lack of self-consciousness temporarily melts away.

There may also be another plane for his delivery to attain, where he dares to relinquish the smooth undulations of his rapping, and jolts us with an intensity of another order, entirely. But such quibbles only highlight the ultimate potency of Lesson’s narrative and performative skills.