Reviewing THE FIRST MODERN MAN by Michael Barry, starring Jonathan Hansler 

Hen and Chickens Theatre, London 20th February 2019



As poetry graces the soul, the essay explores each thought’s travel;

It was writer and French Nobleman, Michel De Montaigne who defined this

By adjusting the mind across forms. The discoverer of the means by which

Intellect achieved message, Michael Barry’s play celebrates him

And through Jonathan Hansler, the actor, we soon fall in line

With the cause which was concerned with a measurement for the world

Into clarifying systems of order; blocks of reflection: mind mirrors,

Reflecting back the precision of the considered word’s bright reward.


The play opens, rich feed for those gathered at London’s Hen and Chickens

Introducing a subject for theatre that goes so far beyond the pale day;

Those shallow concerns and increasingly singular stories no longer challenge

Or bring the critical art into play. The essay is still right at the heart

Of perception.  It’s approach and arrangement of observation and fact

Provide proof of all that we don’t understand or may otherwise wish

To discover. From Sixteenth Century manners to part of our own

Private truth. Hansler takes on the solo role of Montaigne as he journeys


From rooms of privilege to the gutters that run with all that is cast

From wronged hearts. With stature and poise, a sun baked voice,

Grace and humour, Hansler patrols the space, eager to show

Each questioning view, reason’s stance. Actors communicate first.

There are there in order to serve the writer. Enabled by directors

They must use the guidance found in rehearsal to lead us nimbly

Towards the treasure of thought that words prize. And so it proves here

As play and actor both capture the realm of ideas and the water


That now flows again through dead eyes. Montaigne’s tidy room

Fills the stage that Director Helen Niland peoples. As Montaigne moves

From desk to Window, and from notebook to door, time’s revived.

His treasured cat brings dead mice, a testament to its owner,

And this tiny detail is what helps our host regain life. Julian Starr

Paint the space with music of the time, for transcendence,

Montaigne’s sensibility carried by the echo of sound and the pleasure

Of the period theme affords grace.


Hansler houses all with calm poise, filling our ears with fast talking,

And it is his fluency with a sentence that sets this actor apart –

He knows pace. Such craft is sadly lacking today,

When the medium teaches nothing beyond starred appearance

And the provision of fame in large rooms. But in this small theatre tonight

One can for one hour listen to one man’s life freshly conjured as the ghosts

From spent days peer and loom. Montaigne takes us in, but refers to

Unseen spirits with him; these are perhaps his confessors


Or the future readers he’d claim. A sense of communion forms,

Helped by the accuracy of the stage set; Piran Jeffock’s persuasion

Of detail into a believable house helps regain

That charmed connection, long lost, but seized tonight with composure,

By a dignified actor, whose voice and presence remind us

Of past generations who in performing for us made words dance.

As of course, did Montaigne, essaying on thumbs, cannibals

And the education of children. Today, England’s dying


And about to become its own orphan. Learn from the cat.

Bid it in. And honour the frame for which thought was fashioned;

In the arguments we’ve forsaken there is still much to cherish

In brand new readings of this former and fine son of France.


One man shows can be plays or they can be lantern lecture;

In teaching us, this illusion of story and plot finds new air.

This piece is radio for the eye, and film for the ear as past fragments

Align with thought’s fire; past and present connecting


To the starting flames of the future, the warmth of which we’d all share.


                               David Erdos 20/2/19 




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