Posts Tagged Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016

Doubting Thomas


Former enforcer Thomas McCrudden gives a compelling performance

Summerhall (Venue 26)
Aug 21, 23-28
1 hour 10 minutes

Thomas McCrudden was a Glassgow enforcer. This is the story of his journey from that through prison to performer. It’s a brutal and sometimes bleak tale that does not pull punches in any way.

At the start the audience is told that the play will take us “on a journey, to a place and world that that times may feel uncomfortable to them”. It certainly delivers on that promise.

You can feel the tension and anger in Thomas as scenes depict what he describes as his addiction to violence. Yet Doubting Thomas has a message of hope. Thomas when a prison mentor tells a fellow inmate to take off his mask. What does he mean by that? Thomas has said:

” I was acting…all of my life I have been trapped in roles that I did not want…I want you to show this…I will do anything on a stage to show what I did and went through to get people too understand that in people like me, people they call monsters…there is still a child, in me, a scarred child…even when others were crying, begging me to stop hurting them, I was still this child. When I was growing up I was not given any love and that created a man, that was like a monster, I had no empathy, no care for others…I couldn’t, I was alive, but dead inside. I have seen people dying in front of me, bleeding to death, and I have stepped over them because it was not me, I was cold and heartless.”

The play has a strong social message that asks us not to turn our backs and look away from the ‘lost boys’. It clearly states that bad social conditions breed crime: “when your’re born into poverty, you don’t stand a chance.” Doubting Thomas is a plea for wider society not to give up on or abandon individuals. At no point, however, does Doubting Thomas seek to duck the need for individual responsibility.

The central performance from McCrudden is compelling. Despite the aggression and anger you can see a vulnerability. His performance is nuanced as he switches from rage to Glasgow banter and edged humour. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter and theme Doubting Thomas has lines and scenes that had the audience laughing!

The supporting cast show Thomas with his girlfiend, his criminal sidekicks and with a prison counsellor. All serve to throw light on what has made him the man he is and are good performances in their own right. They show also how some ‘friendships’ can reinforce destructive behaviour. A scene I found particularly telling was when one ‘friend’ sought to reinvolve Thomas in crime after his release from prison and took one (of only two) pot noodles and £1.60 (of only £2.50 he had) for a bus fare. He would have taken more if Thomas had allowed it!

Hat tip to Harry Mulligan in a carefully understated depiction of the prison counsellor.

Doubting Thomas is a show with humanity. It doesn’t seek to hide or excuse what McCrudden did. It seeks to explain it and show how positive change can be achieved against the stacked odds that our society gives to many. Although it’s emotionally demanding at times the humour and the positive message shine through. Go see it!

Five stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Cast: Thomas Mccrudden, Dale Joseph Duffy (Antique Specialist), John Riley (Cats and Dogs), William Clelland (Old Prison Lag), Lynn Lynne Killin (Thomas’ Mrs) and Harry Mulligan (Psychotherapist).

Editorial note: Since his release from prison, Thomas has worked in a mentoring capacity as well as advising professional bodies including the UK Government and the Scottish Prison Service. He is also one of the founding members of the registered charity ‘Positive Prisons/Positive Futures’.


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hessGilded Balloon Teviot
Aug 15, 17-22, 24-29
1 hour 15 minutes
Group: Kim Kinnie / Gilded Balloon

This is a powerful one man show about Rudolf Hess the Deputy Fuhrer of the German Reich. Hess (Derek Crawford Munn) speaks directly to the audience from Spandau prison where he has been locked up for decades. Originally designed for six hundred prisoners Spandau has housed only Hess (after the release of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach on October 1, 1966). The New York Times said: ‘In Burrell’s ingenious script and brilliant characterisation, HESS is many things, all provocative: a memoir of a madman, a study of political fanaticism, a treatise on justice, a portrait of old age, an analysis of penal confinement, a descent into Hell.’

It is all that and more. Hess stumbles around the stage, often in pain but his fanaticism and loyalty to Adolf Hitler seldom wavers. Hess recounts his life beginning with his birth in Alexandria, through his military service in World War One and including his ill-fated peace flight to Scotland in 1941. At turns he accuses the allies and audience of both complicity and hypocrisy. He attacks the Justice of his own 1945 hearing before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and, indeed, the whole concept of the trial. Hess poses questions about reform which are thought-provoking. He asks how someone without hope for any future, who knows they will die in prison, and with a severely restricted present can do anything else but live in the past. Can such a person be expected to repudiate that past and the last vestiges of any human identity?

As Hess describes the conditions of his imprisonment it is difficult not to feel some sympathy. For years Hess himself had refused visits from his family but after a severe illness he agreed to visits in 1969. He was allowed only half an hour a month with his closest relatives. No touching was ever allowed. He was forbidden presents on his Birthday or at Christmas. Hess speaks eloquently and movingly about this. For me one of the most powerful sections was his recounting of key events in the lives of audience members, their first day at school, their first kiss and so on ending with “I was here”. The terrible weight of years of solitary confinement was hammered home.

As sympathy is evoked we are also reminded of the terrible crimes of the Nazis. Although holding the title of Deputy Fuhrer Hess was a marginal figure in terms of actual power. Hess had flown to Britain in a bid to broker a peace deal and been subsequently absent for the period of the implementation of the Holocaust and indeed there is no evidence of any involvement in the planning of this. Nonetheless he put his name to anti-Jewish laws passed in 1935 which defined what a Jew was, forbade intermarriage and removed civil rights. In his final statement at Nurmeberg he was unrepentant and praised Hitler. The performance shows Hess seeking to rationalise and justify Nazi policy, particularly the concept of “living space” or territorial expansion. Hess clearly believed that Germans were superior to Slavs who he vilified and disparaged. Thie was perhaps the most uncomfortable section of the performance for the audience. It’s this tension between sympathy and revulsion that is one of the things that makes the play so fascinating.

You go away from this show with conflicting emotions and many questions in your mind. Questions about the relationship of punishment and revenge; about Justice and war and about mercy. These issues didn’t die with the suicide of Rudolf Hess in August 1987. In fact, setting out our own moral ground is becoming ever more imperative in a world in which ‘civilised values’ are under increasing challenge.

Five Stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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