Sunday 22nd May – Tuesday 7th June 2016
3 Stars ***
“Cheltenham, 1842. George Jacob Holyoake is a poor young teacher, making his way from Birmingham to Bristol to visit a friend who has been imprisoned for publishing a journal that criticises the establishment. When he makes a stop in Cheltenham to address a lecture, his words and his overwhelming commitment to speak the truth will change his life forever.
Arrested and tried for blasphemy, and separated from his starving wife and child, Holyoake is faced with the choice of conforming or staying true to his beliefs in a time of injustice and intolerance.
Based on the true story of the last man to stand trial for blasphemy in England, A Subject Of Scandal and Concern was originally written for television in 1960 starring Richard Burton and Rachel Roberts, and directed by Tony Richardson, and was first seen onstage in Nottingham in the early 1960s”.
Photo Credit Samuel Taylor
With this production playing on the set of another show there are bound to be compromises in design. The theatre has been set up in traverse 3 rows one side and 2 rows the other. The Finborough is a small theatre at the best of times so this really constricts the audience – 37 looks to be a full house!
The lighting rig has 4 corner Fresnels, with deep blue gel, unfortunately telegraphing it’s a Fringe show. Consequently the 1st scene suffers as the actors are initially presented with deep blue faces, like Smurfs. However, this is overcome and you soon forget this poor 1st impression as the “Set Choreography” begins and the show starts. This is one slick production with everyone knowing where their set piece should be for each scene with timing and choreography perfectly nailed!
Talking of the Set – just 6 simple pieces in 3 different sizes which ingeniously create the seating benches, the table tops, the barriers, the shelving, the jail……a credit to the Director’s creative skill!
The Sound scape is subtle and effective. Despite the lack of Sound Equipment, the Sound Content is rich enough that again you overlook the equipment used. It surprisingly works much better than you’d expect.
The Costumes and wigs are reminiscent of Poldark. They look the part. I do wonder though if the Costume Designer read the script when Hollyoake is described as forced to wear blankets after a dipping in anti-itch fluids but he still appears to be in pantalons. But never mind, another distraction which briefly passes as the talented Cast take you back on track.
All in all, this is a very polished production, done on a shoe-string. I like a court-room drama and this is one from 40 years ago. The subject matter of “scandal and concern” is a mere trifle in comparison to today’s multi-cultural community and religious ideals, however, it’s still a journey!
I wonder if the lead actor’s stammer/speech impediment is quite so relevant today. I found it a little unsettling to go to a production for “entertainment” which has an actor portraying someone with a speech impediment. But let’s put this in context. Will our current proliforation of new dramas revolving around transgender and mental issues be viewed as slightly unsavoury if reproduced in 40 years time in a more inclusive society?