By Jen Bolsover
Trevor T Smith is an impressive actor. He knows the power of his own beautiful voice and uses it to great effect in this solid solo show.
The framing device, involving Savonarola’s spirit taking over the body of a drunken, down on his luck actor, is somewhat clunky. The early moments of Savonarola being present are also a little heavy-handed in setting up the message of the piece. However, once Smith hits his stride and begins recounting the life of the infamous monk, the play runs much more smoothly.
No prior knowledge of Renaissance history is assumed or required. Smith guides his audience skilfully, introducing them to the events of Savonarola’s life without being patronising. At times the piece errs on the side of the history lesson just a little too much, missing opportunities to explore the inner life of the priest who brought Florence to its knees – especially since Smith’s reading of him as a whistleblower, fighting the corruption of the Medici-dominated city, is an interesting and unusual one.
It would also be useful to know a bit more about what Savonarola has gone through in his five hundred years in the afterlife. Somewhere between the Bonfire of the Vanities and this year’s Fringe he has acquired some distinctly 21st century sentiments, calling upon the audience to move away from a world of multinational corporations and environmental damage towards a more enlightened and tolerant society. This Humanist reimagining of Savonarola is worlds away from the priest whose militant followers suppressed homosexuality and the arts during his lifetime. Such is the power of Smith’s performance that his gentler, more temperate Savonarola is believable, but it would be even more so if we saw anything of the purgatorial process by which Savonarola shed his 15th century beliefs and took on new ones.
Despite the feeling that there are greater depths to be explored, this compact, intimate show makes for an enjoyable hour and a masterclass in how a lone actor can grip an audience.
The Return of Savonarola runs at The Space on the Mile until 22 August at 16:00. Running time is 50 minutes.