Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
A Substitute For Life is an intriguing monologue, written by Simon Brett and performed by Tim Hardy. It’s the story of Francis Kenworthy, a man who has largely abandoned life in order to subsume himself in his greatest passion: books. When we enter the venue, we find him already seated at his desk, surrounded by his beloved tomes. The lights dim and, by candlelight, he tells us his story – about his passion for the work of Wilkie Collins, about his harsh upbringing at the hands of an uncaring father and a cruel governess. He tells us about his brother, who received all the attention, the one who was destined to be the heir, while Francis was merely the ‘spare.’ But of course, time has a habit of correcting the best-laid plans of controlling fathers and this is no exception.
There’s the feel of a Victorian ghost story about this production, though it doesn’t feature any supernatural happenings, unless of course, you include Hardy’s performance, which is absolutely spellbinding. As Kenworthy’s tale unfolds, the audience are drawn closer into his confidence and, despite the fact that he is not the most pleasant of characters, given to the kind of prejudices that were so prevalent at the time, still we fully empathise with his situation – which makes the story’s conclusion all the more powerful – and it would be unfair of me to reveal anything more than that.
Directed by Alison Skilbeck (Hardy’s wife, whose Are There More of You? is showing in the same venue and with which this would make an excellent double bill), A Substitute For Life is an object lesson in how to deliver a monologue. It also leads me to remark on the way out, that it seems unfair to have so much talent in one family.
But talent there undoubtedly is, and you’ll find it in abundance at the Assembly Hall.