THE MARVELLOUS BOY
Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 3 January, 1992

Thomas Chatterton swallowed arsenic in 1770 at age 17, after a prodigious output of correspondence, verse and journalism including several fraudulent fragments from a fictitious 15th-century monk. Public Parts' exploration of his life pivots upon his elder sister Sarah's feelings of betrayal as Tom re-utilises his own life and earlier ideas (the monk Rowley grew out of a shared childhood game) for his own creative ends, and her (dramatically convenient) need after his death to define herself through examination of his work to find "where he stops and where I start".

Carrie Wale's rounded portrait of Sarah carries the intensity of the play's focus well, the more so as Tom is sometimes rather a pain, declaiming his verse with the pomposity of a poetaster twice his age (though maybe that's part of the characterisation). Mention must also be made of Luke Williams' almost Beckettesque Gran, always just stopped from becoming touching by a well-aimed bathetic dart. Simple, evocative staging (a climbing-frame-cum-trapeze and a stage strewn with parchment) and clever use of the Requiem to comment upon preceding scenes add to an energetic syllabub that proudly repudiates any dismissal of devised work as necessarily arty-farty and diffuse.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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