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More Light
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Saturday, 20 November 2010

5 starsLondon: The Rose Theatre, Bankside
15 November
 4 December.  Mon Sat 7:30pm (9:30pm); no performance Sun

This is a play for polymaths.  To enjoy it the most, you’ll be a competent scientist, with a working knowledge of Shakespeare; you’ll be up to speed on geopolitical history, comfortable with the basics of Christian theology, and at least know the names of the classical gods.  It is, in short, a script penned by a Renaissance man… so it’s fitting that it should centre on Giordano Bruno, the man whose brutal demise is often said to mark the Italian Renaissance’s end.

Bruno was a friar with a heretical belief in the universality of God’s love, who burned to death 400 years ago at the hands of papal Rome.  That much is history, but now the fantasy begins: on the eve of Bruno’s execution, Snoo Wilson’s script imagines a rescue party arriving from the afterlife, on a mission to whisk his spirit straight to heaven.  Far from the Catholic heaven Bruno expects, he lands in a distinctively English one, typified by warm beer and the benign patronage of the Protestant Elizabeth I.  And thus is the scene set for an absurdist encounter between Bruno, the Queen and (inevitably) Shakespeare – who form an alliance against the Holy Father, fighting for the prize of Bruno’s legacy and soul.

More LightAnd be warned: if you’re easily embarrassed, some of their tactics will make you squirm.  As we unpick the complex rules of this alternate paradise, we learn that Bruno’s salvation lies in a celestial congress with the hitherto-virgin queen.  The indelicate portrayal of that particular scene wasn’t entirely to my taste, but otherwise – as Shakespeare observes – “the bawdy is well-done”; the rumbustious evocation of heaven as an Elizabethan court is a fine counter-balance to the overtly intellectual themes, making it easy to forget that we’re being educated even as we’re being entertained.

Performing such a nuanced script is a high-wire act, but the uniformly strong cast kept their balance with ease.  In the lead role, Jackson Wright strikes the perfect chord as Bruno, urbanely dismissive of the Inquisition’s threats yet earnest and engaging when debating with a more open mind.  Neil Chinneck also impressed me as the Pope – watch out for some entertaining slapstick, which enhances rather than diminishes the quiet menace of his role – and Leanna Wigginton delivers much of the innuendo as heaven’s barmaid, deftly fusing our stereotypes of the mediaeval wench with a hint of the classical Dionysus.

Occasionally, director Chris Hislop seems a little too eager to put a contemporary stamp on proceedings, with some jarring choices of music and a frankly bizarre incursion from the Star Trek crew.  But these are details: overall it’s a well-paced and tightly-managed production, enthusiastic in its humour yet showing the discipline needed to keep a free-wheeling script from running disastrously away.  It works well, too, in the intimate and atmospheric surrounds of the ancient Rose Theatre, with both set and lighting cleverly embodying the infinitude of Bruno’s cosmos and the god-like nature of his Sun.

All in all, More Light is a challenging play, but delivers more than enough reward for the brain-power it undoubtedly demands.  Behind the carnival humour lies a deeply thoughtful script, viewing truly timeless questions through an Elizabethan lens.  Bruno’s complex and progressive theology deserves more light; and in the reflected lustre of this impeccable performance, Snoo Wilson’s enigmatic vision truly shines.

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About This Author

Richard Stamp

Co-founder of FringeGuru and self-confessed Festival addict, Richard Stamp came to Edinburgh on a six-month assignment and never quite got round to moving back.  In his ten years enjoying theatre in the city, he's been chased by ghosts, abducted by the army and watched Macbeth on a motorbike.  He denies sleeping with a Fringe programme under his pillow.

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