Cancelling Socrates – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Reviewer: Mike Wells

Writer: Howard Brenton

Director: Tom Littler

This play tells the tale of Socrates, the Athenian philosopher so seminal that modern philosophy considers all that came before him as simply ‘pre-Socrates’. The play is set in his final days, in which he was tried and convicted of several politically motivated charges, and ultimately sentenced to death. Like many great classical figures, it’s his final days that are the most illuminating. Even when he’s facing a possible death sentence, his devotion in seeking wisdom is still greater than his will to play the game.

This play is a masterclass in bringing classical tales to a modern audience. The script by Howard Brenton is elegantly written, with delicious passages of dialogue, which hold and tease the audience from the very start through to the conclusion – very much like the great philosopher himself.

As Socrates, Jonathan Hyde is superb. His performance is as playful as it is thoughtful and his delivery throughout is flawless. The same can be said for Robert Mountford who plays Euthyphro in the first act and Gaoler in the second and is excellent as both characters. The pair has some fantastic moments and are fabulously funny throughout.

We also get to see Xanthippe (Hannah Morrish) and Aspasia (Sophie Ward), Socrates’ wife and lover. Their first scene is together, where we see a wonderfully tense and terse interchange between the two of them, each sharing the same wish but differing in opinion as to the best way to go about it. They too are brilliant and bring a subtlety to their performance quite different to the two male characters, but equally as engaging and entertaining.

The direction by the theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler is confident and assured, with the actors being given tremendous licence to play with the text and ‘find the funny’. It’s simple but effective. The same can be said for the design (sound, set, and costume).

A man who died as he lived and remains a household name to this day. In his 70-odd years Socrates earned a reputation for challenging the status quo (or at the very least, challenging what ‘status quo’ really means). The Jermyn Street Theatre is made very much from the same mould.

 Runs until 2 July 2022

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Sublime Socrates

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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