Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
I Am Thomas is a true ensemble piece, in production as well as performance. The list of those involved in its creation is very long (Told By An Idiot, Simon Armitage, Iain Johnstone, National Theatre Scotland, the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, Liverpool’s Playhouse and Everyman) and it shows: this is an eclectic and dynamic mix of music and drama, a triumph of collaboration, devised theatre at its best.
It tells the tale of Thomas Aikenhead, a young Edinburgh student who, in 1696, was the last person in Scotland, to be hanged for the crime of blasphemy. Lurching appealingly between the past and the present, Aikenhead’s story is told though a series of vignettes, presenting him as a pub singer and – at one point – as Jesus Christ himself. Each member of the cast takes on the central role, the changes signified by a simple ‘I am Thomas’ slogan emblazoned on jackets and T-shirts, so that we are never in any doubt as to who is playing him. This helps, of course, to underline the ‘I am Spartacus/Je suis Charlie’ message already highlighted by the play’s title, and brings the focus – the importance of the right to free speech – into sharp relief.
The performances are uniformly strong: the cast are all musically adept, playing a range of instruments, and singing beautifully. The lyrics are witty, the music sprightly and engaging. It’s funny and warm – and tragic too. The props are deliciously silly and inventive, and the costuming a marvel of 1970s theme party kitsch. All in all, it’s really rather good.
Just one thing: what’s a prehistoric heron got to do with anything?