I Am Thomas
23rd March to 9th April
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
How do you solve a problem like, ‘I Am Thomas.’ Both brilliant & terrible at the same time, one wonders what the hell Thomas Aikenhead would have thought of this theatrical parody of his 1697 Edinburgh trial & execution for blasphemy. Then again, if I think about it a little, I reckon Thomas would have thought ‘what the fu3k was that!’
A few weeks ago I was reading through John McKendrick’s brillliant book on the Darien expedition, & came across the story of Aikenhead for the first time. ‘That would make a wonderful piece of theatre,’ I thought, the story being permeated with a great deal of dramatic tension, whose quaquaversal religious bigotry offered a great chance of relevancy to these our modern times. I Am Thomas, I believe, has missed a trick, giving us instead something akin to P1-P2 assembly play, but without the tall narrator from P4 giving us an overview of the plot from time to time to keep his straight.
Director Paul Hunter describes his attitude to the pastiching montage of styles that I Am Thomas incorporates into its fascinating fabric, when he told the Mumble; ‘From our earliest development on the project it felt very clear to me that I wanted the piece to have a contemporary feel… there was a range of influences on the piece, from some extraordinary Communicado shows that I saw at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1980s, to the blackly funny & oddly poiganat films of Roy Anderson.’
For me, Hunter’s choices, were ill-thought out & irrelevant, having Archie-Gemmel-era Scottish football commentators catting about the action at various stages in the play was not much better than a P6 Christmas special. But, what does save the play as entertainment are a spankingly charming selection of songs played mummer-like by a brilliantly talented troupe. John Cobbm Charlie Folorunso, Amanda Hadingue, Iain Johnstone, Myra McFadyen, Hannah McPake, Dominic Marsh & John Pfumojena are all multi-instrumentalists & sing sweetly together. Pfumojena’s voice is startlingly heavenly by the way, while the lyrics of poet Simon Armitage are, in the main, top-notch.
Armitage’s best song has the cast singing ‘Thomas Aikenheeeeaaadddd… who the fu3k is that,’ or ‘Thomas Aikenheeeeaaadddd… who the fu3k are you.’ The problem is, by the end of the play, we aren’t really any the wiser, & Aikenhead’s martyrdom towards achieving a reform’d Scottish religious landscape seems nothing but an ugly caricature. Still, as a spectacle “I Am Thomas’ should be witnessed, you may walk out at the interval shaking your head, or you may you rise in your seats at the surreal finale furiously clapping your hands & proclaiming its brilliance too all who will listen. A unusual piece this, quite groundbreak in its outlook, the production levels of I Am Thomas are so off piste its ridiculous… or is it brilliant… I still can’t quite make up my mind.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen