The Hen & Chickens Theatre – until 2 March 2019
It’s no easy feat performing a one-man show. But jam-packed into one hour, The First Modern Man tells the tale of French Renaissance philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne. Set in de Montaigne’s library, this is a ‘break the fourth wall,’ kind of play, in which we, the audience, are invited to listen to the random musings of the human psyche.
Reading up on this play beforehand – it was giving me Hamilton vibes. To clarify – this is not a musical and definitely not about American history. Expect a stripped back, new piece of writing in a tiny venue like the Hen and Chickens.
Now I have to be honest. I’ve never heard of this bloke before. I’m not too familiar with the French Renaissance either so was a bit concerned that in terms of the history side of things, this would go all over my head. I still don’t quite get all the references, but it’s something to read up on another time.
The audience’s attention is held throughout, and Jonathan Hansler’s energy is to be applauded. Exhilarating.
Despite my ignorance about the context, Jonathan Hansler brings this man to life so much – it doesn’t really matter in the end. It’s almost as if you could just pull up a chair and have a chinwag over wine. Hansler is effortlessly funny and, considering that the real-life Michel de Montaigne passed more four centuries (in 1592, to be exact), he does indeed seem ‘modern’ and entertaining. The audience’s attention is held throughout, and Hansler’s energy is to be applauded. Exhilarating.
There are lighting changes and voiceovers to signify each chapter of life – this is an effective choice of stage direction by Helen Niland to break up the dialogue, which ranges from de Montaigne’s views witches to world music, death, various ailments… and his cat.
One thing that still hasn’t changed from the 16th to the 21st century: the trials and tribulations of public transport. Michel, hun. You don’t mince your words, and I stand with you in solidarity.
The First Modern Man runs from 19 February to 2 March 2019 at the Hen & Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road, London N1 2NA, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm and Saturday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £8-£12. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!