Set in Edinburgh in 1697, I Am Thomas is described as a brutal comedy with songs. Telling the tale of Tom Aikenhead, a 20 year old student who was the last person in the UK to be executed for blasphemy.
Opening with an ensemble number “Thomas Aikenhead, who the f**k are you,” a question asked by the audience throughout the show. As each member of the cast rotates to become Thomas, we are taken through the journey of his trial and execution.
Impressively the actor-musos provide a dynamic orchestration for the music, from buoyant upbeat numbers to more sombre and poignant songs, the production itself is musically excellent. With arrangements by Iain Johnstone and lyrics by Simon Armitage the music almost has a Sondheim like feel, lifting the performance with sharp and witty numbers.
The play itself has a very Brecht style which works in it’s favour, at the start I found it hard to get to grips with but as it progressed so did my understanding. It is very dark humour centring around a subject that seems so outdated yet realistically very present.
The company are superb, their energy is dynamic which keeps the pace of the performance alive. Myra McFadyn stands out due to her outstanding characterisation, she plays a variety of roles but most profoundly Thomas Aikenhead’s best friend. She effortlessly has the audience roaring with laughter yet very cleverly she also has the art of storytelling mastered, she manages to transition impeccably from her outspoken and outrageous characters to a genuine storyteller, her narration being at the core of the play.
Iain Johnstone is strong as the acting musical director, his moments as Thomas performing an emotive song at the piano is a highlight of the play. Similarly John Pfumojena both closes the first act and the finale of the play with his phenomenal vocals.
Despite the play being very silly, verging on stupid, the seriousness of the storyline is brought together in the final song. Pfumojena encapsulates the audience with the beauty of his vocals and African chants, the finale is strangely moving which tends to just slowly creep up on you. His vocals are undescribable as he sings his last words as Thomas Aikenhead before he is executed.
The play itself is ultimately a series of comical sketches formed together to tell the story of Thomas Aikenhead. Although the play is eccentric and appears slightly disjointed, the idea itself is excellent.
I Am Thomas is a bold piece of theatre that expressively combines dark comedy with music which effectively creates a play that pushes boundaries.
On until the 5th of March at The Lowry, tickets can be found here.