Sometimes, a lance is just a lance; this isn’t one of those times.
Pierre Brault, writer of and sole performer in Will Somers: Keeping Your Head!, offers up an evening of ribaldry and tongue-in-cheek wit as he imagines the precarious career of one of England’s most infamous court jesters, who managed to live through one of England’s most lethal eras without, literally, losing his head.
This play is, of course, comedic at heart, full of bawdy rhymes and unfiltered commentary, so be prepared to laugh all throughout this short play. Brault nails the vagabond portrayal of his capering protagonist, but he also manages to leaves room for a more sober reflection of events.
Somers is bound to the task of raising the spirits of the royal family he serves, and sometimes that requires more than simple jokes. He becomes confidant to the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, friend to the disinherited Princess Mary, and truth-sayer to the ailing King, Henry VIII.
He acknowledges the misfortune of women in this time, living as they do as commodities, tokens to barter for political favour, and foreshadows the coming reign and independence of Elizabeth I.
The most impressive aspect of this performance is Brault’s success at tackling the entire script on his own; it isn’t an easy one. Playing the roles of close to a dozen unique characters, from Cromwell to King Henry, engaging in rapid banter with split personalities, rhyming off in antiquated English and Latin verse: this is one of the most complex one-man scripts I’ve seen attempted, and aside from a few slips – some of which were actually unintentionally hilarious — Brault pulls off this whole show masterfully.
Jokes aside, it’s hilarious enough just to see Brault bicker with himself, matching himself at game of wits that he is simultaneously winning and losing. His rhyme-battle between Somers and Cromwell should be highly anticipated.
Even if the jokes aren’t your thing, I feel that most people will still be able to respect the craft that went into the writing of this play. It manages a nice balance between action and reflection, is engaging throughout, and offers a relatively believable look into the political climate of Henry VII’s reign.
A key notion throughout this play is the idea of the privileged tongue, which I think is worth mentioning here. Brault goes a long way to tease out and display the freedom to speak one’s mind without consequence that only a Fool has.
Not so different from today, where satirists and comedians (such as Aziz Ansari and Jon Stewart) can criticize mainstream society without sparking widespread outrage. The words of the satirist are (and have been since Will Somers’ time) seen as the non-threatening voice of truth, are lauded for what would earn contempt or worse for others.
And as bitter as the web-based troll competitions can get between the blue-blooded conservatives and the “social justice warriors,” Somers played with much higher stakes. He lived during the blood-soaked reign of Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, and Queen Mary, where having a political or religious affiliation outside of the officially sanctioned was a most efficient way to earn a state-financed execution.
So, I highly recommend checking this performance out. It’s much more than just a simple comedy, but as they say, the best of jokes are the ones that have a bit of truth to them.
But that’s just my opinion! I want to hear your thoughts! Would you have been a Cromwell and tried to lop off Somers’ head from the get go? Post your comments below and join in the conversation!