Reviewed by Judene Edgar
‘A masterclass in theatrical excellence’.
One of my lifelong idols is Geoffrey Robertson QC. For those who haven’t heard of him, he’s a war criminal prosecutor, has been defence council in high profile cases such as Salman Rushdie and Julian Assange, and led a class action by Tasmanian Aboriginals to retrieve stolen ancestral remains from London’s Natural History Museum.
In the 1980’s he hosted ‘Hypotheticals’, a panel show where notable people from every spectrum of an argument would discuss controversial issues by being thrust into hypothetical situations by Roberson, that would challenge their ideologies and their very being. Robertson was absolutely masterful in his knowledge and command of the situation despite never knowing where it might go.
This is how I felt watching Giles Burton’s adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday. It was an absolute masterclass in theatrical excellence. It had a brilliant simplicity about it that connected with the audience on every level and at every turn, and yet there was nothing simple about it.
There was a total of 19 different characters, 12 main and 7 supporting, and an elephant. Peter Coates played all 19, and I think he could have believably played the elephant too if he wanted. Watching him have three-way conversations with himself was brilliant and hilarious, but importantly, never farcical.
Subtle changes in tone and pace of speech, facial expressions, and even eye expressions were used along with a range of more obvious and humorous gait, posture and accent changes giving each of his 19 characters a life of their own – from timid poets to grotesque tyrants, with the occasional waiter or taxi driver thrown in for good measure.
Protagonist Gabriel Syme has been recruited into a secret police anti-anarchist unit. His mission: to infiltrate a secret Anarchist Council dedicated to overthrowing the state. Syme manages to get himself invited to a meeting by an anarchist poet, Lucian Gregory who has disguised himself as an anarchist because “an anarchist who isn’t good at disguise dresses as an anarchist so no one will guess that he’s an anarchist.”
At the meeting Gregory tries to get himself elected to the seven-member board, but Syme beats him to the post and takes his place under the pseudonym Thursday. As the story continues, Thursday gradually discovers that five of the remaining board members are also secret police infiltrating the group, leaving only the mysterious and terrifying Sunday as a real anarchist who has been bombing cities. In the final moments Sunday is challenged and forced to reveal the true nature of his campaign of terror.
The audience was mesmerised throughout the entire performance, hanging on his every word, our eyes following his every move. With a chair, a sword and a sword stand as your only props, there is no where to hide. But the audience didn’t want for more props and Peter Coates certainly didn’t need anything else to help him along the complex journey. Lighting changes and occasionally being thrust into complete darkness was all we needed, and this was done to masterful effect.
Even the programme carried the same clever mix of intellect and humour. The show was adapted by Rob Suteling, Sound design by Gilbert Soun and Lighting by Burt Nigoles … these were all simply anagrams of Director Giles Burton.
I am hoping for the sake of my family who weren’t with me and for anyone else who didn’t see this, that Giles Burton will find another opportunity to bring this masterclass to a Nelson stage as it’s absolutely and undoubtedly a must-see.
The Man Who Was Thursday is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.