Doubting Thomas – Edinburgh Fringe Festival - Jenny Tingle

A critically-acclaimed fringe show with a difference. An autobiographical novel adapted to theatre for Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Thomas, or “Tosh”, the leading character (and author) plays himself. There’s action and drama, and it may move you to tears, but unlike many other Fringe shows, this isn’t just for entertainment. A man who used to break down doors as a hired thug is now helping to break down barriers.

Formerly a violent man and a convict, Thomas and the cast give an insight into some of the events and experiences which influenced the direction of his life. Thomas refers to himself and others in his situation as “lost boys”- people who are from an early age absorbing and learning violence like a language, or “passing on a box of fear” as he puts it, which will stay with them throughout their lives.

During the show he talks about wearing a “mask”: using violence and a fearsome reputation to hide his own fear and vulnerability. Thomas, a man who used to avoid interaction without a “mask” at all costs, is calling bluff on the swagger and aggressive posturing of people in violent circumstances. He does this by revealing himself.

On stage he bares his soul in order to help break a vicious cycle of violence.

The show starts with silence.

There is no cue from the cast for the audience to be quiet- the cast remain in their positions onstage, waiting. Gradually, the chatter dies down to whispering. When you could hear a pin drop, the lights dim.

Refreshingly, there isn’t storytelling bias. As an audience you are not encouraged to like or dislike Tosh or any of the cast, only to have empathy. But the pain, anger, hope and conflict which Thomas shows in the play is real, which is perhaps why it’s so moving.

Apart from some simple yet effective lighting, the only props used in the show are some plastic chairs, a mattress, a guitar and a clipboard. Not many visual props are needed because the dialogue is beautifully written. The people performing are immensely talented, and the emotion and events portrayed on stage comes from a real place, since the cast includes five ex-offenders.

The struggle to find Acceptance within the mainstream world is the play’s main topic. Tosh wants to give audiences an insight into the lives of people who become pushed to the fringes of society often through violent upbringing, a series of bad decisions, or having to resort to crime simply to survive. A Hopeless path where- as Thomas puts it- “All buses lead to nowhere”. He also shines a light on Britain’s often inhumane and brutal prison system, saying “it fed my violence”. The play also raises the issue of the high percentage of people with convictions who have learning differences or are unable to read.  

Tosh talks about “masks”- often manifested as aggressive bluster and posturing. The former Glaswegian hardman asks the audience to seek the person underneath. “Look in their eyes”, he says.

Tosh comes across as a brave and intelligent man. He doesn’t spare himself when it comes to details of violent things he has done, but the raw feelings he and the rest of the cast show throughout the play create a strong empathy with the audience.

Doubting Thomas is already critically acclaimed, just a couple of weeks into the Fringe Festival. However I feel that the real test of this Fringe show’s success will be ongoing.

No matter what our background is, when we see other people in distress we can imagine ourselves in their place and feel sympathy instead of fear. It’s very powerful.

Afterwards, the cast engage the audience by shaking hands and giving hugs.