Reviews for Take the Space's Production of Sam & I

Chichester Observer

Arundel Festival Fringe 2005
Reviewer: S Webber

In the last moments of Take the Space’s enchanting Sam and I, our narrator Elizabeth touchingly describes the comfort of being reflected in a loved one’s eyes – the eyes being those of her husband Samuel Pepys, the great diarist.

As well as being a wonderful evocation of the events of the time – both domestic and social, the play is a celebration of their marriage, which although tinged with the darker strain of his infidelity, emerges (through Siobhan Nicholas’ beautiful and sensitive portrayal of Elizabeth) as a profoundly affectionate and passionate one.  With just one bag of minimal props and her skill for transformation, the characters, which people Elizabeth’s world, are brought vividly and often amusingly to life in Chris Barnes’ excellent production. 

I came away – my mind teeming with the images evoked throughout the evening: the comfort and colour of the domestic contrasted with the devastation of The Plague (it is still a shock to realise that over 100,000 people perished) and The Great Fire which followed.

It is the attention to detail and the warmth and ingenuity of the staging which gives this gem of a show its richness and variety.  This was story-telling of the highest order.

East Kent Mercury

November 2005
Reviewer: Liz Turner of Theatre Nomad

Take the Space’s production of Sam & I at the Astor Theatre Arts Centre was a delicately crafted piece based on the diaries of Samuel Pepys and told from the point of view of his wife and servants.

It was a story full of tenderness, pathos, humour and irony cleverly framed by opening with a contemporary character who illustrated some parallels between seventeenth and twenty first century life.

The design of the set and costumes were simple but enabled essentially theatrical moments which kept the audience completely engaged. Siobhan Nicholas’ effortless and beautifully timed performance did full justice to the thoughtful text which she had also written. Her meticulous attention to detail made her characters live and seem like familiar friends.

Arts Page: June 26-July 2, Best Performance

The Ustinov Studio - Theatre Royal, Bath
Reviewer: Sarah Jane Downing.

What do you do when your husband cheats on you? Leave him? Sleep with his best friend? Grind chillies into his underwear? Any or all of these, or even try to talk it out with him, but whatever we do, we take the power to try to sort it out.

Elizabeth married Samuel Pepys in 1655; rumour has it that they met in a bookshop and it was such a meeting of minds – encouraged by her extraordinary beauty – that the usually parsimonious Samuel was happy to forgo the customary dowry when they married shortly after. In marriage love was usually secondary to allegiance and security, especially as women were not allowed to own property in their own right. They had to marry well to gain a nice home and hope that the guy was decent or was suffering frail health. 

Save for his flirtatious eye for other women, Elizabeth and Samuel were very happy. He was a rising star in the court of King Charles II and the newly re-established monarchy was intent to chase away the grim puritanical air of the Protectorate. The theatre was restored and women were officially allowed on stage for the first time, the Royal Society was founded, and London was charged with excitement. 

In line with their rising status, Elizabeth took a lady’s companion to accompany her to fashionable engagements. Part assistant, but mainly friend, Debs Willet was welcomed into their household; the Pepys’ even took her on a special trip to see her birthplace in Bristol and to sample the waters at Bath. They had a lovely time, although Samuel comments in his diary on the cleanliness of all those bodies sharing the same water! Little did Elizabeth know that even then she was being betrayed. 

All 17th century wives were obliged to overlook their husband’s indiscretions as part of the ‘deal’ of marriage but Sam hadn’t just betrayed their marriage, he’d betrayed their love. Elizabeth was devastated that he would do such a thing, but with her best friend, and in her own home, she was doubly betrayed. 

Writing and performing for Take the Space, consummate actress Siobhán Nicholas has created a delightful passionate solo play to tell the story of Elizabeth St Michel. Inspired by the statue of Elizabeth looking down upon her as she married at St Olave’s church, she has reached across the centuries, one woman communicating with another. Separated by history, but joined in feeling as we still try to find ways to deal with men who cheat and then have the gall to lie about it! Elizabeth’s story although rich with history is remarkably contemporary.

Revd John Cowling, St Olave's, Hart St, City Of London's Samuel Pepys Tercentenary Festival 2003

This is a play that can travel. It is for Siobhán Nicholas a triumph and a tour de force, in the course of which she presents at least seventeen different characters, whilst keeping our attention movingly focused on the central person. It helps to explain why Sam was entranced as well as exasperated by her and left the beautiful and elegantly worded memorial to her in the church...

Frazer Swift, Deputy Head of Learning, Museum Of London 2003

Siobhán Nicholas gave a powerful and moving performance in SAM & I. Her ability to single-handedly captivate the audience was remarkable. The performance was very well received by our knowledgeable audience and was one of the highlights of our programme of events marking the 300th anniversary of Pepys' death and supporting our Pepys' London exhibition.