Review: The funny and moving This Is Living, Trafalgar Studios 2
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Review: John Osborne's A Subject of Scandal and Concern, Finborough Theatre

A Subject of Scandal and Concern 2016, Finborough Theatre, Courtesy of Samuel Taylor_12
Jamie Muscato in A Subject of Scandal and Concern 2016, Finborough Theatre. Photo: Samuel Taylor

John Osborne originally wrote A Subject of Scandal and Concern in 1960 as a TV drama starring Richard Burton. It was then performed on stage but this is the first revival for more than 40 years.

It's based on the true story of George Holyoake who scrapes a living for his family as a teacher and occasionally lectures despite a stammer. After giving a talk in Cheltenham he is asked why, in talking about man's responsibility to man, he didn't mention man's responsibility to god.

He suggests that the poor can't afford to be religious and that perhaps the clergy should give half their wages away to help those struggling to make ends meet. It is 1842 and his comments are taken as blasphemous and eventually he is arrested. George Holyoake became the last man to stand trial for blasphemy.

His trial becomes a choice between conforming or standing by his beliefs and an examination of freedom of speech. It also becomes a tussle with his conscious as his wife and sick child slip further into poverty while he is in jail.

The play is simply and beautifully staged with a series of wooden benches which are moved and manipulated dance-like to create the setting for each scene - the courtroom, the jail etc. Jamie Muscato's Mr Holyoake is a quiet but determined man. His stammer means he sometimes struggles to get across his thoughts but he never gives up and is stoic throughout.

It is an interesting time to revive the play. Mr Holyoake's admittance that he doesn't believe in god is seen as dangerous because it could unsettle people, cause confusion and therefore dissent. Freedom of speech continues to be a concept that is both protected and judged today. While the idea that someone might stand trial for saying they didn't believe in god seems ridiculous now - although not at all shocking - the ideas around what you can and can't say in public is a pertinent one.

A Subject of Scandal and Concern is an hour long without an interval and is on Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays at the Finborough Theatre until June 7.