Pierre Brault has an excellent track record of writing and performing one-man plays based on historical figures. First, there was Patrick Whelan, the man hung for assassinating D’Arcy McGee (Blood on the Moon). Then Elmyr de Hory, the notorious art forger (Portrait of an Unidentified Man). And then Lenny Breau, the guitar genius (5 O’Clock Bells).
To these, he’s added Will Somers, the court jester to Henry VIII and Henry’s successors, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. As with his earlier plays, he’s done his research well and has deftly brought to life a wide range of characters.
Brault’s many years on the comedy club circuit stand him in good stead. Will Somers: Keeping Your Head! offers a liberal helping of witty jokes and double-entendres, often with a political bite. Some are even in Latin!
When Somers inveigled his way into the role of Court Fool to the young Henry VIII, the position was a precarious one. Henry’s capricious temper meant that his Fools lasted no more than 4 months before being executed for some slight, or perhaps because they failed to amuse the King. So how did Will Somers survive 22 years with his murderous boss? Henry says at one point, “Every time I think of killing you, you say something profound.” But there’s more to it than that. And for that you’ll have to see the play!
One of the delights of this play is that, when Somers is playing the Fool, he does so in verse. Delightful doggerel!
When he’s parrying with one of his adversaries – the chief of which is the dour Thomas Cromwell – he gets off some zingers. When Cromwell states that “A well-read fool is a danger.”, Will’s repost is, “Surely ignorance is more dangerous.”
His imagery is often striking. For example, he says, “you hate this with the passion of a thousand burning Catholics”. Henry’s persecution of Catholics during the English Reformation often meant they were burnt at the stake.
In addition to Will Somers, Brault plays many other people at the Royal Court – Henry, Cromwell, most of Henry’s 6 wives, all 3 of his children, the painter Holbein the Younger, and a couple of kitchen staff, one of whom doubles as Henry’s main Executioner. The latter man is very busy throughout the play. For as Brault makes clear, Henry truly was a monster.
On opening night, the audience very much enjoyed themselves. Will Somers’ wit kept them laughing, even though the historical events were often grim and Brault occasionally stumbled over his lines.
Once again, Pierre Brault has brought history to vibrant life.
Will Somers is at The Gladstone Theatre until April 2, 2016. The performance starts at 7:30 pm, and is 1 1/2- hours long with no intermission. Click here for more info or to buy tickets.