The problem of reforming an ailing and unfair society has been with us for a long while. In Lambeth looks at Britain in 1789, on the eve of the storming of the Bastille. A meeting of two radical minds - the revolutionary Thomas Paine and the visionary William Blake. Paine argues for radical revolutionary change. Blake argues that perhaps no revolution is worth the blood spilled.
Love&Madness present an annuversary tour starring Jack Shepherd, twenty one years after it was first performed at the Dulwich Tavern on 12 July 1989, and then at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Jack Shepherd and starring Michael Maloney and Bob Peck.
'Out of their encounter, Shepherd's play orchestrates a fascinating clash between two types of revolutionary: the idealistic visionary and the principled pragmatist.' Independent.
'Charm is not a quality one would immediately associate with either William Blake or Tom Paine, but Jack Shepherd's play about a meeting between the two in 1791 has it in abundance.' The Times.
" ... Blake and his wife are sitting on the branch of a tree. They have been reading Paradise Lost. There's a full moon, low in the evening sky. And outside this little oasis, Tom Paine hurries through the dirty streets, past burning piles of rubbish, gibbets and mobs of angry men, eventually stumbling almost by accident into the Blakes' garden.
It seemed to me that a whole play might be written around this one scene, loosely based on Blake's proposition that 'opposition is true friendship'. " - Jack Shepherd, 1989
When Thomas Paine, the great exponent of human rights, first met William Blake of Jerusalem fame, and his wife Catherine, the couple were perched at the top of a tree stark naked. As in everything else Paine took a rational look at things. This is how In Lambeth, the play by the actor dramatist Jack Shepherd, which played at Lewes Little Theatre in a production directed by Neil Sheppeck in Association with Love&Madness, begins.
Shepherd's piece is beautifully written with a poetic ring and clearly he appreciates why
a man like Blake would want to take on in debate his unexpected dinner guest who arrives in Lambeth during a riot. ...
This is an absorbing piece which never becomes didactic. Shepherd's Paine is a man up from the country who argues the case for an equality of the rights of man with a genuine conviction. He's an intellectual rather than a swashbuckler, cool and collected and well used to threatening mobs. He still has a long road to travel.
Luke Shaw's Blake is a colourful eccentric constantly seeing the visions of angels. He has an appealing warmth, though, and this is clearly evident from his relationship with his wife played by Lisa Bealby.
Long live revolution, then, and let's hope the company return soon. " - West Sussex Today
" Tom Paine, pamphleteer, revolutionary, republican has stumbled into the Lambeth garden of William Blake, the visionary artist, poet and dissident. He is given a meal and a lot of booze and the two men trade images of a perfect world. For the most part they
share those dreams but they differ fundamentally in how to get there.
Paine is the pragmatic politician, whose starting point is what exists and stressing that revolution is achieved by mobilizing the people to overthrow the system. Blake is the romantic visionary, the idealist who believes that before you can have revolution you have to have revelation, which may or may not include the odd spot of regicide along the way.
As Blake, Luke Shaw gave a deeply-felt and engaging study of the anguished artist, at odds with the social and political turmoil outside his walls. He was especially convincing when venturing into his own poetry and in his moving exchanges with his dead brother Robert, whose presence he clearly felt at times of stress.
Jack Shepherd, a well-known actor, got off to a slow start, confronted as he was by a naked husband and wife - sensitively and unsensationally dealt with by all concerned - but as he got into his stride he revelled in the cut and thrust of the polemic and saw in Blake a man whom he could respect while disagreeing with him on the fundamentals of revolution.
Cast as referee between the two protagonists was Lisa Bealby, as Catherine, Blake's long-suffering wife. In a carefully-observed reading, she brought a sense of normality and a calmness grounded in the real world to what was a highly-charged evening in her garden.
The production, directed by Neil Sheppeck for Love&Madness, the touring company, was brilliantly lit by Lynn Jeung. The opening, with the Blakes sitting naked in a great tree in the soft warmth of their garden, evolved in real time as the moon and stars rose and the two men sparred and argued in heated and friendly debate. ... We had a marvelous set, beautifully lit, we had the polemic and we had some very good performances. ... the Little Theatre's exciting venture into a summer season was an engaging and enjoyable evening out. " - Crawley Observer
Jack Shepherd was born in Leeds and studied art at King's College Newcastle, after which he went to the Central School of Speech and Drama, and was a student founder of the Drama Centre.
He was at the Royal Court in the sixties, starring in plays by Edward Bond and David Storey. A decade later he joined the Bill Bryden Company at the NT, playing leading roles in works by Eugene O'Neill and David Mamet, featuring in the by now legendary production of 'The Mysteries'.
As a writer, Jack began devising plays for the theatre in the sixties, yet it wasn't until 1989 that he wrote his first play for the theatre: In Lambeth, which won a Time Out award. As did his jazz play Chasing the Moment, five years later.
He has since written Half Moon, a play about artists in wartime; Through a Cloud, about Milton and Cromwell; the epic Holding Fire, first performed at Shakespeare's Globe last year; and the recent Only When I Laugh!, about the variety hall working-class hero.
For Love&Madness, Jack has: directed The Tempest and Ajax, written and starred in Only When I Laugh!; and now performing in In Lambeth.