Robert Tanitch reviews In Lambeth at Southwark Playhouse, London SE1
Jack Shepherd’s play opens with William Blake and his wife up a tree in a beautiful garden, stark naked. For a moment I thought they were Pan and a nymph. They are interrupted by the arrival of Thomas Paine who seeks sanctuary from a London mob bent on hanging Republican sympathisers.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) revolutionary philosopher and pamphleteer, active in the American and French revolutions, charged with treason in Britain, narrowly escaped being guillotined in France.
William Blake (1757-1827), poet, painter and engraver, was an idealistic, eccentric and impoverished visionary, absorbed in his imaginary world of angels and much-loved dead brother.
Shepherd imagines a debate between these two contrasting radicals on the everlasting struggle between the state and those who would destroy the state. Both men are a threat, one physically, the other spiritually.
Paine is not interested in philosophical niceties, only in practicalities and he wants to turn the fabric of society upside down and rebuild it. Blake, worried by the bloodshed that will inevitably ensue, argues that all revolutions only lead to more tyranny.
Jack Shepherd’s debate, passionate, eloquent, fearless, engages. The acting of Tom Mothersdale as Blake, Melody Grove as his wife and Christopher Hunter as Paine is perfect.
Michael Kingsbury’s production has considerable charm and the tree-filled garden, created by Ruth Sutcliffe, is a delight.