REVIEW: THE TRAGEDIAN, THE RISE TO FAME OF EDMUND KEAN, 1789 - 1814
“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 http://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/cgi-bin/page.pl?l=1302277995. 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).