‘Pip Utton as Dylan’ (Pleasance Courtyard – Beneath, until AUG 29)

“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.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

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.


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‘Adolf’ (Town and Gown, 4th & 5th June)

Pip Utton is THE leading solo player strutting the boards in our time.

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Nae Bad)

Among the most damning things that can be said about Adolf Hitler is that he was a politician. Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about politicians is that Adolf Hitler was one. We know that Hitler was a politician first and foremost because at the end of his 12 year reign of terror and error, the Germany that he had promised to leave stronger, happier, healthier, and wealthier was in utter ruin. Its cities had been shattered. Its youth slaughtered (yet again) on the altar of bombastic statecraft gone wrong. Its minorities piteously tormented, robbed, and murdered under the smiling guise of due process. Germany had been conquered and was occupied by the very people and nations Hitler had spent his public career vilifying. Germany would not be a single, united state again for the better part of half a century. It takes a politician to make such a god awful mess of things.

Hitler was a narcissist, a liar, a user, an abuser, intellectually shallow, personally callow. His biography is a case study in how the divine spark of a rather ordinary human being was snuffed out by a violently tyrannical parent, an indoctrinating hate-fuelled school teacher, a world indifferent to his early self-delusions of grandeur, exposure to the soul-crushing loneliness of life as an urban vagrant and the horrors of industrial warfare on the Western Front. This hapless self-involved manchild, a figure all too familiar these days, was spun by the fates into the author of atrocities great and small from which the world may never recover. Hitler became what he was because instead of seeking therapy he sought votes. He wanted unthinking adulation when he needed unrelenting help. Why would anyone vote for such a sorry specimen of putrid, pusillanimous, perversion?

Pip Utton is THE leading solo player strutting the boards in our time. No one in the business is more respected by their peers for the sheer bloody effort they bring to each game, set, match and championship. When I first reviewed ‘Pip Utton is Charles Dickens’ at EdFringe in 2011 the master was appearing in no less than three separate solo bouts – as Charles Dickens, as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and as Adolf. It took a toll on the artist, but the art was all the more exquisite for his feat of endurance. Now, with the COVID-crisis having shuttered our theatre spaces, Utton is (naturally) among the first to return. It’s like hearing the purr of a vintage tiger moth or the growl of a perfectly maintained hurricane fighter coming out of a cloudless Duxford sky. A thing of not-so-quiet beauty. An engineering masterpiece roaring back to life.

Utton’s portrait of Hitler is pictured in the bunker in the final hours of that misspent life. Those wanting only a rehash of Bruno Ganz’ landmark and ultra-realistic performance in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2004 biopic ‘Downfall’ will be disappointed, as will those hoping for a return of the camp clown presented by Dick Shawn in Mel Brooks’ 1967 ‘The Producers’. Pip Utton’s ‘Adolf’ isn’t about Hitler. It’s about us.

The show is about how an expert performer can tempt us, lull us, draw us away from what we know to be right and sink us in a mire of half-baked half truths. It is sad to think how many people come away from their encounter with the ultimate politician believing that none of the health warnings apply to their own preferred pedders of political spume. Arguing that one politician is better than another is like claiming that one bucket of lukewarm vomit tastes better than another. As Dr. Ben Carson put it, “We’ve been conditioned to think that only politicians can solve our problems. But at some point, maybe we will wake up and recognize that it was politicians who created our problems.”

Given how many problems the politician Hitler created for so many people it is a feat of editorial genius that this show is as tightly packed as it is. If the production’s Director, the legendary Guy Masterson no less, were a tailor for M&S we would all be looking sharper than Sinatra on our way to the office. Masterson is a genius for getting even very heavy and cumbersome material to hang just right. For all that this is a dark tragedy, there is a light, even a breezy feel to this intense and intensely upsetting piece of theatre.

Aspects of the script are in need of a little updating. These days Prince Harry wears a mask, not a costume, and wants us all to know that he is woker than woke (and open for business). Utton is in better physical shape than any of us, so the line about a tubby little English actor is as discorant as Blackadder’s describing Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent as fat. But what’s so impressive (if not altogether unexpected) is how well the script has held up over nearly 30 years of performance. It’s proof positive that we cannot hear its warnings too many times. Whether we choose to heed those warnings on the other hand…

Reviewer: Dan Lentell

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