THOMAS Aikenhead was the last person in Britain sentenced to death for blasphemy, and the Edinburgh student went to his death in 1697 with the words: “It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure.”
These chilling facts form the framework for I Am Thomas, the Told By an Idiot/National Theatre of Scotland co-production described as “a brutal comedy with songs” inspired by fact, fantasy and a short story by James Robertson.
Think for a moment about religion – and whatever our individual opinions, it’s hard NOT to think about it these days. Extremists have always carried out acts of atrocious violence in the name of religion. At the same time, religion as we know it in the UK has been diluted to a time when it is not the least blasphemous to say “Football is the new religion”.
The Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris were attacked and staff killed by those purporting to be fighting blasphemy … this time against the prophet Mohammed.
The confusion of these thoughts is brilliantly encapsulated by I Am Thomas, as actors move between centuries with the donning of a wig and coat, or a single stack-heeled shoe, Aikenhead’s own identity is fluidly passed from performer to performer to sheep, and the world spins on into the days of a spitefully underinformed rabble-rouser television mogul en route to the White House.
Lyricist Simon Armitage and composer Iain Johnstone, working with director Paul Hunter, have devised a powerful, thought-provoking, helter skelter romp, full of sound and fury and signifying that we really DO need to take a long, clear view of how we live today.
Several of the audience at Salisbury Playhouse on the opening night of the play continuing to Saturday 12th March seemed bemused. One man said “I quite like the music but I don’t know what it’s all about.”
I Am Thomas requires careful attention, as it delights, entertains, provokes, infuriates, astonishes and illuminates.
The tour continues, closing at Wilton’s Music Hall in London from 20th to 30th April. If you missed it in Salisbury, make the journey to this atmospheric venue, where it will make even more sense.