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The Atheist

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Like Shakespeare's best villains, Augustine Early is a man we love to hate. Unscrupulous to the core he approaches life like a series of opportunities he can either choose to ignore or exploit, which is why he so perfectly fits his job as a sensationalist scoop journalist.

Early, the creation of writer Ronan Noone, quickly bonds with the audience and immodestly admits that, although he knew he would always be famous, it took him a while to identify his talent. Through tracing the story of his life he pinpoints the pivotal moment of his formative years that marks him out for celebrity - or rather, notoriety - the moment he decided to burn down his trailer home in order to ensure his mother's place at the top of the social housing list.

A lot like Edmund from King Lear, Early is determined to be the hand that guides his own fate and, in this one man autobiographical tale he certainly succeeds in being the hero of his own life.

Love him or hate him, Early has lived a lot and has a lot to impart to his captive audience, but it is up to us to glean what wisdom we can from it. Perhaps his story addresses the corrupting power of the media or, more generally, it dissuades us from the evil of too much personal liberty. Either way the experience of watching Early's decline is neither tinged with tragedy nor overtly moralising: it is a thoroughly entertaining piece.

Two things make this production captivating. Firstly, the form: as a solo piece we are held in the constant stream of Early's recollections, and are soon won over to his atomised view of life. This is confirmed none more so than by the audience laughter that follows his ruthless acts of media subterfuge; but whether our laughter condones or condemns his actions is sometimes unclear.

Secondly, the leading man, Jonathan Chambers: he has masses of energy and this is sustained throughout, which is essential to the ever alert and ever plotting character of Augustine Early. More than this, though, Chambers truly owns the part of Early; nailing the brutal humour of his words as well as the cruel mimicry of the persons he brings down in his scoops. Like many a villain, though, Early soon becomes entangled and tripped up by his own deviousness.

Chambers and director Hugh Ross deserve much praise for a near perfect one man show. The staging is decidedly simple, directing all attention at Chambers whose delivery of lines runs at a tremendous pace and, apart from a few line indiscretions, Chambers fixes the audience from beginning to end without them being aware of the two hour time he has commanded the stage. For that feat alone this show is well worth catching.

- Charlotte Pegram


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