by Jack Shepherd.
Southwark Playhouse (The Large) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 2 August 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 July.
Out of the trees and off the streets for discussion in late 18th-century London.
Actor Jack Shepherd, in his other career as playwright, wanted to write an epic about Norfolk-born Thomas Paine but couldn’t find a way forward; that kind of play arrived in 2009 at Shakespeare’s Globe with Trevor Griffiths’ A New World.
Twenty years earlier Shepherd held to one point in his plan, showing Paine meeting William Blake in the Blakes’ garden in 1790s Lambeth. As the Blakes are first seen recreating a kind of pre-lapsarian Eden, sitting naked in the branches of a tree, it’s safe to assume the London borough was somewhat different then.
But not a place of greater safety in revolutionary times (first America, now France). The tide of history is increasingly evident as a mob searches the streets for the radical Paine. And they’re not out to fête the author of pungently radical tracts Common Sense and The Rights of Man.
Rather they’re like a mob of militant UKIP supporters searching-out an illegal Rumanian immigrant. While, like good characters in a play, what these three – at least the two men – do is discuss political matters philosophically.
Catherine – whose part in the naked tree-sitting might, it’s deducible, not have been proactive – is given little part in this, and doesn’t demand it. However, when the mob comes knocking, she’s the one dispatched to the door to handle them.
The men’s argument provides the kind of contrast made by another 20th-century writer using the French Revolution as a backdrop – Peter Weiss, in the play known in English, for short, as The Marat/Sade (it developed into something else once Royal Shakespeare Company Director Peter Brook got hold of Weiss’s script.)
Michael Kingsbury is more sympathetic to Shepherd’s play, making a clear contrast between Christopher Hunter’s practical Paine, apparently as bold with his physical safety as in his ideas, and Tom Mothersdale’s Blake, fired by visions only finally made actual for the audience. Melody Grove’s Catherine, saying little and being hardly literate, remains a noticeable presence between the two writers, sympathising with her husband’s visionary mind while being practical as Paine when dealing with anything from tea to a violent mob.
William Blake: Tom Mothersdale.
Catherine Blake: Melody Grove.
Tom Paine: Christopher Hunter.
Director: Michael Kingsbury.
Designer: Ruth Sutcliffe.