Theatre review: The Necessity of Atheism

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Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from Oxford in 1811 for writing and circulating a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism.

Star rating: ***

Venue: theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)

Sean Lang’s play for young theatre company Anglia Ruskin Creative tells the story of this event with a light touch, while deftly sketching in the historical context.

Alexander Banks’ Shelley is a naive, rather pompous youth with a tendency to self-absorption who badly needs his long-suffering friend Tom (Thomas Jefferson Hogg, played by Victoria Penn) to keep his feet on the ground. But a politically turbulent time with the government intent on curbing civil liberties amid fears of French republicanism make this a bad moment for Shelley to announce his libertarian views to the heads of the university.

Faced with the political wranglings of Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, the idealistic Shelley holds tight to his principles and has to pay the price, leaving us unsure whether to admire him or despair at his lack of pragmatism. While the script doesn’t always sparkle, it keeps the laughs coming, and balances farcical chase sequences with serious and pertinent ideas about rights and freedoms.

Until tomorrow. Today 12:20pm.