Well Thumbed, Chapter

October 1, 2016 by

In 2010 Stanley Wells published a book entitled Shakespeare: Sex and Love. In it he tells his reader about how some Victorian publishing houses omitted any ‘smut’ from the Shakespearean canon – God forbid any impressionable theatre goer in the 19th century hear any such lewdness and be swayed toward a life of debauchery. Terry Victor does quite the opposite to those publishing houses, as he has ‘well thumbed’ through the dirty bits of his favourite literary works from the bible through the 10th century scriptures to the works of William Shakespeare himself. A show, I imagine, that would have Mary Whitehouse spinning in her chastity belt.

Terry Victor is a writer and actor whose long career has seen him work with Punchdrunk, National Theatre in London, and National Theatre Wales. His writing credits such as Murder on the Menu have been staged on the Orient Express. As a figure on stage you would be forgiven for being reminded of Brian Blessed, except with an even better mustache. His voice, too, is as booming as, and more articulate than, Blessed’s.

This one night showing begins with The Librarian (Victor) entering to Mozart’s Leck mich im Arsch (1782) setting the tone for the evening. Through the performance we heard from Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Little Dorritt, Moby Dick amongst many other literary works dating back 2 millennia. Perhaps the most impressive feat of this performance was the amount of research that was culminated in order present the evening’s monologue. The survey of literature was both vast and specific to the task at hand: to provide the audience with many ‘dirty bits’ that any bibliophile may have missed in their reading of the classics.

The night is presented as a theatre piece: there is action, location and the pacing that is all very well placed in a theatrical setting. However, the lack of unity and plot makes me wonder if this would be better placed as a stand up routine. This may seem semantic, however, what happens when the form jars with the content in this way is that towards the second half we may start to wonder where the rises and falls are, where the climatic event is, that makes this theatre.

For me, it is a simple question of framing, which ultimately affects the delivery. You could see the choreography and the script working in the performers head. If this were stand up it would have potentially seemed more like we (the audience) were all in on the joke. For what it is worth it would be an excellent stand up show – the research level makes sure of that. Instead the show flounders a little once everyone gets what is happening. If the show was stripped back, taking away the set (which was largely redundant), the choreography, and even the scripted links between the readings, then it would perhaps seem like a more honest affair and the audience would undoubtedly stay engaged throughout.

This aside, the work gone into this and the poetry, and how the readings are stitched together, are all very impressive and works as a short fringe piece (just under an hour) – just shift the framing and it would be excellent.

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