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.