“Only someone as crazy as the man who brings to the Fringe three separate shows at three separate venues would be unhinged enough to come to Scotch-land and promote an American rye.”
Full disclosure. I’m a massive Pip Utton fan and have been since I saw him “As Dickens” at EdFringe 2011. Bob Dylan on the other hand, meh not so much, but then I don’t much care for that Hitler chap Pip’s currently playing either. Bob Dylan has been described as the voice of a generation and that generation is queuing round the block. Their combined ages would take us back to a time when Noah was thinking about growing a beard and Keith Richards was qualifying for a seniors’ bus pass.
We enter to find ourselves backstage at Dylan’s last live performance. He’s taking a few questions from the press, chronicling the past with a soft-spoken worldview that is anything but weary. There’s a bottle of Heavens Door Tennessee Bourbon, the whiskey owned and approved by Dylan, which incorporates into the design the gates to Dylan’s home which he welded himself. Only someone as crazy as the man who brings to the Fringe three separate shows at three separate venues would be unhinged enough to come to Scotch-land and promote an American rye.
Starting with Dylan’s whiskey is a smart and stylish opening by the play’s author, the magnificent multi Fringe First-winning John Clancy. The fruits of Dylan’s success as a songwriter have liberated him, materially-speaking, to concentrate on intellectual and spiritual pursuits. We are hearing the voice of an unwilling guru who prefers questions to answers, individuality to conformity. Yet Bob Dylan, we learn, is just as much a carefully curated brand as his spirituous liquor. There’s some great fourth wall smashing over Utton’s choice of attire for the upcoming final performance – should it be the dark or the light black shirt. Folk know what Bob Dylan is supposed to look like and they’re meant to.
Brand Bob Dylan is a single oak tree, grown of over 200 acorns – the memorized folk songs which became his early musical bedrock and turned Robert Allen Zimmerman’s stage persona into a household name. The Dylan on our stage has no desire to become an exhibit, a fossil on display like one of the pictures on those bucket lists of paintings one simply has to see this side of heaven’s door. And so he’s calling time, and what a time it was. A time of war in SouthEast Asia. Social and political discord in the West. Changing fashions and age old problems. What must have it been like to have seen all this from the personal and professional perspective of Bob Dylan?
I come away liking Utton’s soft-spoken, open-minded, big-hearted character. I’d like to buy a couple of t-shirts, or maybe some tea towels with some of John Clancy’s most ringing lines and phrases. But then, of course, they wouldn’t have the impact of Utton’s unique, transcendental delivery. I’m looking at Pip Utton, but I’m seeing Bob Dylan. How does he do that? Maybe we’d all look this good if we had David Calvitto directing us too. Calvitto is an actor’s actor. A firm Fringe favourite and the ideal choice to stage a show that walks so softly while carrying a big stick. Utton performing, Clancy writing, Calvitto directing. It’s like all our EdFringe Christmases have come at once. Just add Guy Masterson and Sir Ian McGandolph selling ice cream in the foyer and you’ve got yourself the perfect theatrical experience.