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by Robert Bolt
The Common Man - Michael J Smith
Directed by Tracey Nicholls
Designed by Tracey Nicholls
THERE are thirteen on stage for the curtain call of this play, but although the number may be unlucky for some it certainly proves otherwise for Wimborne Drama, whose outstanding production kept its audience spellbound on Thursday evening, the first night.
Robert Bolt’s 1960 masterpiece records the fate of Sir Thomas More, whose insistence on maintaining his principles in the face of Henry VIII’s wishes to establish himself as head of the Church in England was eventually to cost him his life.
This production came close to disaster just two weeks ago, when one of the major principals was forced to withdraw for health reasons. Enter John Sivewright, who despite stepping into the breach at the eleventh hour is superb as Thomas Cromwell, playing the role of this despicable man with great confidence and without a single prompt – in fact, if there was someone sitting in the prompt corner on opening night, that person could have nodded off with no disastrous consequences, as his or her services were not required by anyone throughout the entire evening.
Director Tracey Nicholls says that when she first saw this play back in 2005 she fell in love with it, and she certainly seems to have put that love into this fine production. To say that there is no weak link is perhaps an over-used cliché, but in this instance I really think it’s true and even the smallest roles are well played.
Leading the cast is, of course, the character of Sir Thomas More so the actor playing him has to be commanding enough to hold the audience’s attention throughout, also letting them see the complexities of his character. The excellent Sam Moulton does all this and much more, creating someone with whom we can really empathise and whose ultimate fate seems an unjust travesty.
Talking of ultimate fates, this is, I think, probably the point where I must slip in a little mention about what was surely a small but vital lighting error, one that I’m certain won’t be repeated at other performances but which - no, I’ll say no more.
The Common Man acts as a kind of narrator whilst also being the ‘ordinary people’, and brings much humour to the play; Michael J Smith is an absolute joy in this role and with a less strong cast might easily have stolen the show.
There are stand-out performances too from Rob Cording (Richard Rich), Chris Durham (Duke of Norfolk), Penny Pearson (Lady Alice More), Claire Hutton (Lady Margaret More), Colin Pile (Will Roper), and Tony Feltham (King Henry VIII), while Chris Brown also impresses in the cameo role of Cardinal Wolsey.
A cleverly designed set serves to depict the various London locations and mood music helps set the scene, but my final words must be saved for the absolutely glorious period costumes specially designed and made by BSP Wardrobe. You won't see better anywhere.
I’m not usually one for historical plays but this production is high on my list of the best of anything I’ve seen this year. It runs until Saturday evening and if you go along I can promise you that this is a history lesson you’ll love.
Linda Kirkman, Scene One
The turbulent times of Tudor history in the 16th Century are the subject of Robert Bolt’s acclaimed play A Man for All Seasons which Wimborne Drama has brought to the Tivoli Theatre for its autumn production.
This as a challenging drama set in London between the years of 1528 and 1535 and it brings to the stage a key episode in Tudor history. Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, wrestles with his conscience as King Henry VIII seeks to divorce Catherine of Aragon. The King later proclaims himself head of the Church of England and, in the Act of Succession, declares his marriage illegal. A staunch Catholic, Sir Thomas will not swear to the Act and falls from favour, eventually paying the ultimate price for his beliefs and integrity.
What a remarkable actor Michael J Smith is, bringing the personality of The Common Man so strongly to life. Diminutive of stature yet towering in ability, he plays steward, boatman, jailor and executioner brilliantly as well as linking story lines. Fine performances too from Rob Cording as the shallow, ambitious Richard Rich and Chris Durham, making his debut with the group, as The Duke of Norfolk. Taking on the part at very short notice, John Sivewright captures the intensity of Thomas Cromwell splendidly and Chris Brown is a powerful Cardinal Wolsey. Lady Alice, loyal wife of Sir Thomas, gives an opportunity for Penny Pearson to show her acting ability and their daughter, Margaret is well played by Claire Hutton. As Will Roper, husband of Margaret, Colin Pile is excellent and what a good part for Tony Feltham as the boastful and bombastic King Henry VIII, a pivotal role. John Bruton (Archbishop Cranmer) and servant lad Calum Hearne support well with cameo appearances as does Verena Smith-Maurer but the ultimate accolade must go to Sam Moulton who is Sir Thomas More. In a masterful characterisation he commands the stage with every word, gesture and expression, capturing the complexity of the man to perfection. This is a performance which would grace the professional theatre and it was a joy to behold.
Making her directorial debut, Tracey Nicholls must be warmly congratulated for gathering a stellar cast and bringing this drama so vividly to life. A splendid set which represented Hampton Court, a prison cell in the Tower of London and other locations perfectly (smooth scene changes were a pleasure) and carefully researched props added to the professionalism of this fine presentation by Wimborne Drama. If you miss A Man for All Seasons – it ends on Saturday – do be sure to look out for The Ladykillers in February 2015.
Pat Scott, Stour and Avon Magazine
Photographs: Richard Neal