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I Am Thomas review at Liverpool Playhouse – ’emotionally charged’

John Cobb, Charlie Folorunsho, Amanda Hadingue, Dominic Marsh & Myra McFadyen in I Am Thomas at Liverpool Playhouse. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Told By An Idiot takes gallows humour literally in this new musical production. Subtitled A Brutal Comedy with Songs, I am Thomas tells the true story of Thomas Aikenhead who, in 1697, became the last person in the United Kingdom to be executed for blasphemy. An Edinburgh medical student aged 19, Aikenhead made the mistake of speaking his mind, and his first offence became his last.

The company use transcripts of Aikenhead’s trial and indictment as a basis for Simon Armitage’s poetic retelling. Stopping just short of using the title ‘Je Suis Thomas,’ the production is clear and current in its message about freedom of speech, with every member of the cast representing the protagonist at some stage.

Musical director Iain Johnstone also performs, playing a mobile piano and accompanied by the cast on a variety of instruments, in a play that celebrates Thomas’s life and death with wry wit. On a steeply built set resembling a courthouse, the story is told in flashback as a modern Edinburgh tries to choose a local celebrity to commemorate.

The tragedy of the narrative is relieved by gloriously comic segments in the manner of football pundits analysing a brutal match. Myra McFadyen gives a strong performance in a number of roles, with Dominic Marsh and John Pfumojena delivering outstanding vocals.

There are times though when narrative clarity is obscured, and the song Thomas Aikenhead, Who the Fuck Is He? might well resonate with anyone who hasn’t researched the story beforehand, but the production’s message is a powerful and emotional one nonetheless.

 

Verdict
Emotionally charged, darkly humorous study of one of Edinburgh’s forgotten heroes of free speech

Production Information

Production
I am Thomas
Venue
Liverpool Playhouse
City
Liverpool
Starts
February 19, 2016
Ends
February 27, then touring until April 30, 2016
Press night
February 24, 2016
Authors
Simon Armitage
Director
Paul Hunter
Musical director
Iain Johnstone
Set
Laura Hopkins
Lighting
Paul Anderson
Sound
Adrienne Quartley
Stage manager
Katie Hutcheson
Production manager
Gavin Johnson
Cast includes
John Cobb, Charlie Folorunsho, Amanda Hadingue, Iain Johnstone, Myra McFadyen, Hannah McPake, Dominic Marsh, John Pfumojena
Casting
Laura Donnelly
Producer
Told by an Idiot, National Theatre of Scotland & Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh in association with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse
Running time
2hrs