Cancelling Socrates by Howard Brenton. Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1 to 2 July 2022. 4****. William Russell

A dazzling performance from Jonathan Hyde as Socrates, the Father of Western Philosophy and clearly a most annoying man is the centrepiece of this witty and hugely entertaining play by Howard Brenton getting its world premiere at Jermyn Street in a classy production directed by Tom Littler. He gets fine support from Sophie Ward as Aspasia, a courtesan with whom he is friendly, and Hannah Morrish as Xanthipe. his exasperated wife, and gets a close run for his money from Robert Mountford doing an impressive double turn, first as a fellow citizen infuriated by their arguments and then his man of the people jailer telling him how to escape having to drink that cup of hemlock.
There is a stylish set by Isabella van Braeckel and the whole thing romps along at speed. Brenton poses lots of questions which have answers – the infuriating Socrates tended to ask and reply – that ring remarkably close to events today even if we are in Athens in 399BC and Hyde makes the old nuisance both annoying and sympathetic. It seems Socrates, a sculptor, was told by the Oracle at Delphi he was the wisest man around so he set about proving it at a time when Athens was beset by plague and problems with other lands and duly fell foul of the laws on blasphemy. He was tried and sentenced to death after making a speech in his own defence which did him no favours. He was not popular in Athens among the older citizens – the young found him stimulating and he found young men stimulating among other diversions. . Not much is known about him and his teachings and arguments have come down from the writings of Plato who was one of his pupils so what we hear is probably more Brenton drawing parallels with today than Socrates but it doesn’t matter. The arguments are worth listening to as Hyde turns and twists and stands things on their head sometimes it seems just for the hell of it and regardless of the risks he is taking.

Euthyphro: Robert Mountford.
Socrates: Jonathan Hyde.
Xanthippe: Hannah Morrish.
Aspasia: Sophie Ward.
Gaoler: Robert Mountford.

Director: Tom Littler.
Set & Costume Designer: Isabella van Braseckel.
Lighting Designer: William Reynolds.
Sound Co-Designer: Max Pappenheim.
Sound Co-Designer: Ali Ttaie.
Movement Associate: Phoebe Hyder.
Assistant Directior: Becca Chader.
Production Photography: Steve Gregson.

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