His Final Bow

Oran Mor, Glasgow

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Mary Brennan

four stars

ART imitating life is what we expect from great actors – but life imitating art? Enter, with a real pistol in his hand, John Wilkes Booth. Feted for his playing of Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Booth became likewise inspired to assassinate a supposed despot. On April 14, 1865, he entered the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre and shot Abraham Lincoln, before leaping onto the stage and shouting “Sic semper tyrannis" – a cri de coeur against tyrants attributed to the said Brutus, but also the Virginia state motto. The Confederate South lay close to Booth’s heart in whatever space was unoccupied by his own ego.

In Peter Arnott’s rollicking (but accurately factual) two-hander, we catch up with Booth (James MacKenzie) and his youthfully naive sidekick Davey (Alex Fthenakis) as they hide from pursuing federal troops. Booth is on crutches, cornered, yet – inbetween railing against his reluctant hosts, waxing rueful at the deteriorating state of the South and blaming Lincoln’s abolition of slavery as the root cause of all ills – he’s agog to read the “reviews” of his last performance. Ah, the oxygen of publicity. He seizes on every mention, even the hostile denunciations, and – not for the first time, in this deceptively jocular piece – you’re reminded of how other obsessives employ violent means to get our, and the media’s attention for their cause. There’s no over-emphatic drawing of parallels between Booth’s grandiose claims of avenging the South, and those self- aggrandising pronouncements of present-day terrorists, but tune into Booth’s rhetoric, given Southern-accented flourish by MacKenzie, and the racism, bigotry and righteous superiority break through the cultivated veneer of civilised behaviour.

Director Ken Alexander garnishes Arnott’s text with delicious instances of thespian over-acting as both actors re-live the events of that ill-fated Good Friday before their own final exit. This deserves to be a hot ticket, folks. It is in Edinburgh (Traverse) and Aberdeen (Lemon Tree) after Oran Mor.

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