Freshly Fired – The Socrates Set

Freshly Fired presents a series of new plays fresh from page to stage at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, written by established writers and read by a cast of experienced actors.  

The latest offering is The Man Who Argued Himself to Death: not the catchiest of titles, though it’s difficult to think of a suitable alternative, but one phrase from the text, “The Socrates Set” gives an idea  of what it’s all about.

Written by Colin Swash, a contributor to TV’s Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week, this is not exactly a new play, but the latest draft of something he prepared earlier.  

The backdrop is ancient Greece (cue topical reference to the Olympics) – the cradle of democracy, a place that prides itself on the freedom enjoyed by its citizens. Yet are they free to think, and say, what they like – or does criticism of the hallowed democracy itself cross the line?

Socrates, played by George Layton, is depicted as an eccentric, an “old crackpot” who wanders around barefoot and doesn’t care much for personal hygiene.  At the age of 70, this could be passed off as a touch of senile dementia – yet his mind is as sharp as a razor and his comments just as cutting.

He describes democracy as the tyranny of the mob and says his role is “to sting, provoke, awaken and annoy” but after provoking all the wrong people, he is accused of corrupting the nation’s youth and ends up on trial for his life.

In his defence, he describes himself as wiser than everyone else and alienates the jury by coming across as arrogant, condescending and snobbish.

 “Don’t put me to death, for your sake, not mine” he pleads, but is found guilty by a majority who, by now, would do pretty much anything to shut him up. 

When offered the chance to choose his own punishment, such as exile,  Socrates first suggests that he should be rewarded with free meals, then offers up a paltry sum as a fine. Mockery of the judicial process earns him a sentence of death by hemlock.

This bizarre true story still has the ability to amaze, but the opportunity to delve deeper into its irony and dark humour is lost in swathes of philosophical speeches and glib comments which come from the head but barely reach the heart of the matter.

In the sense that Socrates died as the result of his own “fatal flaw”, whether that be stubborness, hubris or the courage of his own convictions, here is a true Greek tragedy – but this version of events cheerfully flaunts Aristotle’s dramatic conventions with its self-styled combination of pathos and humour.


Freshly Fired at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, is directed by Ninon Jerome. 

For further details check the website



~ by A_A on March 30, 2012.

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