On Wednesday 30th March, I went to see I am Thomas at the Lyceum. I am Thomas is a described as a brutal comedy with songs. It begins in a meeting of the Edinburgh council trying to decide whom to choose for a statue in Edinburgh. And then goes back to follow the story of Thomas Aitkenhead from the late 18th century, a man who was just searching for the truth. He was the last man in the UK to be hung for blasphemy. The whole piece embodies the issues of identity and freedom of speech.
‘It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong’ (Voltaire, 1752)
Overall I loved this piece, with it’s political roots and comedic pop culture references. The first thing to talk about is the set: It was simplistic and innovative. The use of levels was very effective, having a stage on a stage, plus another barrister level on the second stage. Along with the large drapes that were used to set the scene, providing a simple, and effective way to portray the locations. The actors in character, generally ones in authority, also pulled them away. The piece was set in the 18th century, around the 1770s, because of this, the director, I assume, decided to portray that time like the 1970s. This made the whole issue of freedom of speech more relevant and harder hitting. Tying in the idea of music, like The Sex Pistols, being the ‘Devil’s music’ and a method of rebellion. This also opened up a huge range of pop culture references to be made throughout the play. From Rocky and Fight Club to Match of the Day. Which just added to the comedy throughout the piece.
One thing that is notable for this piece was the general vision for the piece, pulled together by the actors. Throughout the whole piece each of the ensemble played Thomas Aitkenhead at one point. This was really effective as a symbol for identity and the idea that this matter affects everyone no matter of your belief, colour or creed. This idea was followed through in the second act, when the whole cast were in t-shirts that said ‘I am Thomas’. This scene in particular was extremely powerful. The actors passed around a noose, when the actors didn’t have a noose they were playing, when they were handed the noose the body language of them changed completely and turned from very playful to very solemn. Along to a song where the lyrics said ‘playing to the hangman’s song’. The last actor to have the noose and to be hanged, had a T-shirt that said Je suis Thomas. This brought the story to today. Making it topical, and hitting the audience harder, especially with the recent Brussel attacks
The music brought most of the symbolism to the piece. It started off with an upbeat pace, providing comedy and laughs throughout the first act. A special mention must be made for John Pfumojena. He was amazing. His voice was angelic, with Nigerian roots in the music, creating a beautiful compilation that complimented the piece perfectly. The music also furthered the symbolism of the Heron, which had been mentioned throughout the piece. ‘What’s that on the horizon. A prehistoric Heron’ A Heron often symbolises Conviction, determination and intelligence, all qualities possessed by Thomas Aitkenhead. Emotionally charged, and darkly humorous, this piece was amazing. It explored Scotland’s unsung hero for our freedom of speech, by creating a relevant piece of theatre, which is particularly tricky for a piece set in the 1770s.
For an excerpt of the music watch the trailer for the show, it is definitely worth it.