Written by: Edward Rowe
Director: Simon Harvey
Reviewer: Karen Bussell
Stephenson, tick; Watt, tick; Newcomen, possibly; Trevithick, who? Never heard of him. How did the illustrious father of steam transportation fall so far below the radar of general knowledge?
Cornish comedian Edward Rowe’s ‘Story of Cornwall’s Greatest Son’ is a fun and fact-filled 75 minutes putting the 19th Century genius firmly into his rightful place in history.
Rowe’s alter ego, Kernow King, is steam-driven Trevithick (x2) while rubber-faced Mary Woodvine is everyone else as modern day mechanics suck their teeth over a faulty VW engine, and frantic episodic scenes enact James Watts and Trevithick’s bet, digging under the Thames, adventures in Peru, steamy romances and obsession with being able to transport people up Camborne Hill.
Slightly out of chronological order and mixing in modern touches with great artistic licence, Rowe’s piece is innovative – think mobile phone conversation between abandoned wife and South America travelling engineer, yoga posturing fury, dance and plenty of well-known music with rewritten lyrics.
Woodvine is a delight, diving into a suitcase of hats and scarves to recreate parents, wife, journalist, miner, teacher, a dour James Watt and more while King Kernow portrays a driven inventor, a veritable 19th Century Di Vinci, designing locomotives, dredgers, under-river tunnels, telescopic masts, iron-hulled ships, threshing machines and refrigeration, obsessed with high-pressure steam power to the exclusion of all else.
Comic timing is spot-on, the on-going drama of Mrs Jones’s seized engine saves the piece from becoming an episodic lurch through history and the director, Kneehigh’s Simon Harvey, keeps the pace tight.
Cornish references – wind-inducing pasties, Trago Mills, landmarks, local newspaper, My A’th Kar and dreckly – fix the piece in the far South West and create a cosy inclusiveness. Brush up on the words to Going Up Camborne Hill Going Down as you will be expected to join in.
Informative without being at all boring – delightful.
Reviewed on 14 October 2016 then touring | Image: Contributed