Thursday, 9 June 2011

It is better to be a well known drunk than an anonymous alcoholic

Alister O'Loughlin


“Well known drunks” are often the most fascinating characters.

I recently had an incident where a certain former ambassador, who has himself been spotted (in a somewhat undignified manner) swigging from a beer bottle, termed me such. This individual tried to slur my name by calling me “drunk” in attempt to cover-up an expose of his wife’s antics running a “charity." Frankly, slightly misquoting Churchill, anyone decent would rather be called “drunk” than be that particular former ambassador as in the morning they’ll be sober and the behaviour of him and his wife will still be ugly.

Talking of drunks, Edmund Kean is a name that many probably will never have heard of. His is one that had certainly not come to my attention until my good friend Steven Berkoff invited me to a play based upon his vice-ridden life.

This week, along with eight friends, I saw the first of a three-part trilogy about the life of this renowned womanising alcoholic at the Riverside Studios in W6.

Written and performed by Alister O’Loughlin, this eighty-five minute one man show brilliantly captures the rise to fame of a an actor who changed British theatre forever and who was certainly this country’s first “celebrity hell-raiser.”

Naturalistic Kean (1789-1833), according to Berkoff, had a “power” on stage that “no one could match.” O’Loughlin singlehandedly brings this energy before his audience in a devilish fashion that works most cleverly.

A versatile trunk is all that accompanies O’Loughlin on stage in The Rise to Fame of Edmund Kean, 1789 - 1814. No other extras are needed in a setting where we witness a player who shows great skill narrating the glum prospects of Kean as he is forced to pay second fiddle whilst dreaming of playing Shylock.

This is a play that moves at intense speed and one that tells us of Kean’s somewhat torturous journey from childhood to Drury Lane. It chronicles the journey of a bastard child as he moves from town to town pushing a handcart. His damaged spirit is tempered with extreme ambition and it is fascinating to watch as he rises from the gutter to stardom.

I look forward to the next two instalments of this dark trilogy and urge you to take the time to see a play that The Sunday Times rightly call “impressive” and “epic.”

This is a story of a “well-known drunk” that a wider audience really must be introduced to.

For more information see The Tragedian, The Rise to Fame of Edmund Kean, 1789 – 1814 runs from Tuesday 7th June to Saturday 2nd July at Studio 3, Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, London, W6 9RL. Tickets: £15 (£10 concessions).


Dark Avenger said...

I also thought Alister O'Loughlin's The Tragedian was superb. While, as you say, it was the first part of a trilogy, this first part works very well stand alone. It is quite impressive how O'Loughlin can remember the whole thing as he has an awful lot to say.

As well as the last two parts of the trilogy, I would hope, one day, to see O'Loughlin play Shakespeare's Shylock. The short glimpse we saw of what he is capable of suggests he could do it very well indeed.

Anna Scott said...

Isn't this the same ambassador who had had one gin too many before going on QUESTION TIME in Exeter?

'A man's true character comes out when he's drunk' (Charlie Chaplin) suits both the ambassador and Edmund Kean by the sound of it.

I will go to see this play this weekend.

Matthew Steeples said...

Dark Avenger - It's good to see we agree on something in view of your comments on another blog. O'Loughlin performed brilliantly and I do hope this fine trilogy really is brought to a wider audience.

Anna Scott - You will enjoy what I thought was a fantastic performance. Do let us know what you thought of it in due course.

Anonymous said...

Alister O'Loughlin's performance was magnificent. The script is fantastic and grips the audience right from the start. For those who are ignorant of the life of Edmund Kean, this monologue will give you an insight to the trials and tribulations of the life of a struggling actor and his family in the 19th century. I am very much looking forward to seeing the next two parts.