In 1975 Emmylou Harris might have walked all the way from Boulder to Birmingham but in 1842 a weedy, tweedy small-town teacher and small-time socialist named George Holyoake actually walked from Birmingham to Bristol to visit a friend imprisoned for publishing a journal criticising the establishment.   He pauses in conservative Cheltenham to give a talk to the Chartists about migration and Poor Law reform – and because of one glancingly atheistic remark, is arrested and tried for blasphemy.

In 2016, Turkey’s president has a journalist imprisoned for anti-establishment remarks, in the USA right-wing Christians and Creationists demand legal protection for their unscientific views, the word ‘Holocaust’ was trademarked by American Zionists so no other atrocity could be so labelled, people of strong religious beliefs are demanding legal protections against those who have none. Despite the fact that just today, figures show there are more atheists than Christians in Great Britain.

In 1961, flushed with the success and notoriety he’d earned from Look Back in Anger John Osborne continued to satirise the Empire, the establishment, and the press in his tabloid gossip column musical The World of Paul Slickey before writing A Subject of Scandal and Concern as a BBC Sunday Night Play for Richard Burton and Rachel Roberts.

Actually someone should re-work Paul Slickey, a famous disaster so heavily booed on press night that leading lady Adrienne Corri made V-signs at the audience and told them to ‘go and fuck themselves’ and Osborne was chased down Charing Cross Road by angry theatregoers. Comedy gold.

Although it’s a wordy and intense hour, director Jimmy Walters has given Osborne’s legacy the most handsome and elegant staging, and Philip Lindley’s simple wooden structures whirled balletically by the six-strong cast serve perfectly to contain Hoyloake within the pen of societal prejudice. Jamie Muscato who scored such an immediate success with Dogfight, confirms his status as a thoughtful and intuitive actor with a serious and sensitive portrayal of Holyoake, convincing equally as a speech-impedimented victim and an inspirational orator.

Five excellent actors share the other 17 roles, with distinguished work from Doron Davidson and Edmund Digby-Jones.


Here’s the Audio Boom which @paulinlondon and I made just-out-of-the-theatre.  Listen here.

A Subject of Scandal and Concern runs on Sundays Mondays and Tuesdays at the Finborough Theatre until 7 June.