Reviewer: Iain Sykes
Simon Schama has been working very hard recently. The Face of Britain is the title of his new book and his new five part television series which complement each other in their exploration of the history of Britain using the art of the portrait as the “family album” through which to view the past. The mini promotional tour, The Face of Britain: An Evening With Simon Schama, gives the historian a chance to bring his passion for this subject to a live theatre audience which, in the limited time available, he certainly does. So why does this one hour slice of Simon feel like little more than an extended trailer for his upcoming TV show?
Schama is definitely a man passionate about the history of the portrait as a tool for freezing the past and he warms to the stories behind the chosen pictures he chooses to illustrate this show. The back stories behind the portraits ranging from the first stage managed royal image and the portrait that Churchill hated, through to genuinely moving stories of love-inspired paintings, are endlessly fascinating as his words bring their tales to life. Yet it’s all too clear, as he keeps reminding us, that there is much more that he has to tell but the audience will have to tune in to his programme to find out what this is, and in a stand-alone evening this proves a very frustrating point. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with selling books and plugging a TV show on the back of a live performance, when it seems blatantly obvious that this is the main point of the evening, it does take something away from what is happening on stage.
An Evening With Simon Schama is, as far as it goes, quite a pleasant and entertaining, if a little lightweight, one. As a taste of his book and his television series (which, from the clips shown, does look rather good), it does leave the audience wanting to buy and turn on. But fine as this hour long talk is, it definitely feels like it could be a whole lot more.
Reviewed on 28 September 2015