It was a Friday. It was the first day of the Fringe. It was the first day of the International Festival. And it was the first time since 1998 that both festivals started on the same date.
‘The Titanic Orchestra’
Twenty-five years since John Hannah returned to the Fringe but, contrary to publicity, it is not his show. It belongs to Doko and his bear, Katya. Nor does it live up to it’s “madcap comedy” tagline. With Eastern-European comedy (think Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’), you either know what’s coming or you don’t. So for an average Fringe-goer, if you know very little about the East-Euro genre (there isn’t one, I just made it up, roll with me), the entire style and rhythm can be hard to settle into. (See reviews via the show’s link, worth the laugh).
For over an hour, we are witness to four drunks and a pseudo-Houdini (also drunk, very East-Euro) all philosophising and romanticising of dashed hopes (even moreso), wondering if they’ll ever escape their rut: a train station. Instead of Chekhov’s cry for “Moscow!” in ‘Three Sisters’, it’s Hristo Boytchev’s pine for “Stockholm!”, because it’s the gateway to the world.
If you go for Hannah, he will be seen as one of two things: an understated performance as the pseudo-Houdini, or woefully miscast. The sheer intensity of Jonathan Rhodes’ performance as Meto (leader of the drunken tramps) juxtaposed with Hannah’s drunken trickery felt backward and incoherent. To watch, this supposed Houdini had more in common with Doko, Luba and Luko than Meto did, primarily because of his unconvincing portrayal of an impoverished alcoholic. Even in haggard clothing and bare feet, Houdini looked substantially rougher in his three-piece and top hat.
Ultimately, while having to wade through archaic, motif-laden text, the cast never quite captured the energy of the room. The shining diamond in the rough is Doko, played by Ivan Barnev, not least because he is probably the only complete character onstage. But, thanks to a script riddled with clichés, cul-de-sac scenes and surpurfluous characters (one of which is, surprisingly, Houdini), a brutal cut needs to happen. What should have been seventy minutes overran to ninety when really, this is a piece better suited to forty-five – I didn’t discover the overrun until afterwards, which explained why I left so tired and, sadly, unfulfilled.
‘The Titanic Orchestra‘ at Pleasance Courtyard, One
‘Pip Utton: Playing Maggie’
Pip Utton is a one-man show known for taking on big roles, among which include the likes of Dickens, Churchill, Hancock, Chaplin and, returning since 1997 and the most renowned, Hitler. This year, ‘Adolf‘ returns for one night but, for three weeks, his subject of choice is one of the most divisive figures in British history: Margaret Thatcher.
Similar to Adolf‘s structure, Maggie takes you through her work ethic, logic and philosophies, with reflection and generating debate at its heart. Unlike Adolf, however, there is a twist. Adolf explores the dangers of nationalism and its disguise of ever-lurking fascists, dormant until an opportunity arises; through audience questions, Maggie reflects on whatever is thrown at Utton in character. And in somewhere like Scotland, that might be considered brave.
Overall, it was a fun and admirable hour. Some of the audience reactions were entertaining because of their predictability – when else will there be an opportunity to vent your own personal vitriol at a political figure, or the nearest thing to it? Then there was the fact that, at no point, did Utton’s portrayal falter in his answering as Thatcher. What struck me as the most intriguing aspect was the addition of ‘Simon‘, the actor Utton played who was playing Thatcher. According to today’s company, it was perhaps in reaction to various responses from Adolf, where he refers to himself by name rather than pseudonym – that particular showing had seen a slight break in portrayal out of sheer frustration because, once he removes the costume and speaks as himself, audience members often gloss over the whole point of the act and genuinely believe he means it…
‘Pip Utton: Playing Maggie‘ at Assembly Rooms, Studio One