Review: ‘I am Thomas’, @lyceumtheatre #IAmThomas

Review of I am Thomas by HSS member Richard Grant

On Tuesday 29 March a number of HSS members went to see the production of “I am Thomas: A brutal comedy with songs” at the Lyceum Theatre. We also benefited from a post performance question and answer session with the cast of 8 from the Told by an Idiot and National Theatre of Scotland companies.

We had differing views about the play which had been developed incrementally by the cast and was loosely based on James Roberston’s short story about the hanging of Thomas Aikenhead in Edinburgh in 1697, the last execution for blasphemy in Britain. But there can be no doubt about the energy behind this fast paced production or the quality of the acting and the music.

The play builds on a tradition of mixed media plays with a political and social message going back to the 7/84 company and indeed Brecht and Veil and it is a worthy addition to this genre.

For the most part, it manages to stay entertaining and encouraging the audience to think about the plight of Thomas, Scottish society then and religious intolerance now. It does not attempt to preach – always a good sign.

I Am Thomas 2

But do not expect a coherent narrative or any serious attempt to understand the broader context of that period in Edinburgh’s history (although the short essay by Susan Mansfield in the Programme is very good on this topic). The Musical Director stated clearly in the post play discussion that the focus of the play was on the importance of “freedom of speech” in general and not an attack on religion.

Notwithstanding the “je suis Thomas” slogan on a tee shirt in the last scene, the play itself seemed to have rather more diverse targets – the Presbyterian Taliban of the day, betrayal of Aikenhead by friends, and the high handed behaviour of the legal establishment personified by the character of James Stewart, the contemporary Lord Advocate.

There is even some implicit criticism of Aikenhead himself for havering a little about his views although this is surely logical for anybody with Humanist leanings. And there are other diversions a plenty from any this suggested core “message” throughout the play including “match of the day” style commentaries, dolly the sheep allusions, the constant changing of the actors taking the role of Thomas and some amazing singing in an African language.

At the end of the day, this is definitely a play to catch while it is in Edinburgh. It is impossible to be indifferent to the play or the issues it raises. And at the very least, it will help to educate more folk to have a clear idea to the question posed early on in the play:

“Who the f…. was Thomas Aikenhead”!

Richard Grant

30 March 2016

The Lyceum Theatre will be portraying the story of Thomas Aikenhead from 23rd March until 9th April 2016. Scepticism cost that young man his life in Edinburgh in 1696; he was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy but in the rest of the world it is still happening and several Humanists have recently been killed for their stance. I am Thomas is described as a brutal comedy. http://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/i-am-thomas

Image Courtesy: Lyceum Theatre.

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