The fourth wall is something that is rarely respected in York’s Drama Barn. So when, with house lights still fully up, a scrubby common-man (Paul Trussell) addressed us from the stalls below, before bounding onto the stage and identifying himself as our narrator for the night, we found ourselves not nearly as impressed as our fellow audience members.
“It is perverse,” Trussell began in his opening speech, and although this was a little harsh on the production, the sometimes forced exaggeration of the cast belittled what was a well-written history.
Entertaining exchanges showed the over-acting often characteristic of period dramas, and the bold, temperamental Henry VIII (played by Damien Matthews) was lost amongst a lack of subtlety and delicacy which is appropriate to such an episode in history.
The shining light in all of this was David Leonard. A former pantomime actor, his dry wit and timing added lightness to the otherwise saturated part of Sir Thomas More, lifting the script from obscurity to clarity, and engaging with the audience simultaneously.
It was impossible not to be dragged into the plot as he spun Robert Bolt’s original script, superbly written in places, around his fellow actors, who were but flies in Sir Thomas’s finely woven web of dialogue.
The other notable feature was Nigel Hook’s cleverly designed set, an imposing scaffolding of metal which served to remind the audience that the side of Sir Thomas’s life we were seeing here was the private side, not the public. From his family life at home to his hidden conversations with the wheedling Spanish; from underground conspiracies against him to his final moments in prison, this play was an enjoyably accessible, if at times predictable, window in the life of one of history’s most elusive figures.