Friday, 25 March 2016

I Am Thomas

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

It starts with the wheeze of twin accordions, does Told By An Idiot's musical romp concerning Thomas Aikenhead, the seventeenth century student who questioned the existence of God, only to end up immortalised himself as the last man to be hanged for blasphemy in the UK. On a set that doubles up as courtroom and city chambers, a 1970s stryled rogues gallery of Edinburgh councillors – a body hard to pastiche, whatever the century – are debating which historical figure to honour with a statue.

What unravels in Told By An Idiot director Paul Hunter's co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland, the Royal Lyceum and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse is a stark lesson for our times about how if you push people too far they will eventually fight back in a way that sires a flowering of cultural riches. Here Aikenhead is cast as a pub singing rebel at the sort of latter-day Open Mic night that some of Edinburgh's less enlightened souls would rather have closed down.

At the heart of Aikenhead's accidental martyrdom is an ideologically driven terror of ideas that unsettle. With all eight actors playing Aikenhead in turn, the collective resistance that comes out of this hidden history features cameos from other young radicals such as Archie Gemmill and the Sex Pistols. All of this is driven by composer Iain Johnstone's settings of port Simon Armitage's lyrics in a show that goes beyond knockabout satire to a more brooding meditation on dissent. A final rousing chorale sung by John Pfumojena points to a world of possibilities worth rising up for.

The Herald, March 25th 2016

ends

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