On the one hand, it’s quite hard to believe that Adolf will be 20 years old in 2017. First premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1997, Utton has been returning every year since 2001 with the show – sometimes a full length run, others a one-off. On the other hand, it isn’t so surprising because, fortunately (unfortunately?) it’s yet to go out of date. For all the little tweaks to keep it in line with current affairs, from what I understand the backbone has very much remained a constant.
As I’d mentioned in a previous post on this year’s show, Maggie, Adolf explores the dangers of nationalism and its disguise of ever-lurking fascists, dormant until an opportunity arises and then where are we? The first half of the show is in character: Hitler in public and in private, with his people and favourites. It portrays his compassion, passion and vitriol, and the delivery that sold his ideology to the masses.
The second half sees Utton come out of character, grab a beer (mocking the Nigel Farage’s of this world and pub regulars espousing their “I’m not prejudiced but…”), and begin building a rapport with the audience. Do the Nazi salute, joke about how “we’ve all done it” and parade the Gestapo with a finger as Hitler’s moustache, it’s a laugh. The twist comes in accumulating throwaway comments here and there, designed to break the momentum and lure you back in. The comments become statements, the statements gain aggression, and before you know it, the actor and Hitler are one and the same.
The parallel is deliberate. Fascists are not dead, they merely learnt to lurk until the call goes out. Given the current Syrian crisis, or even the impact 9/11 had on the American (and global) psyche, all it takes is a thought expressed to a few people.
“I’m still here. When you knock on the door, will you let me in?”
‘Adolf‘, Assembly Rooms
Secondly, I really didn’t like the play. Not the production – the story. Once again, I am the minority who didn’t fall for the play of the moment (not sorry). I just have a bit of an axe to grind over stories that follow a despicable character, with no redeeming features, and doesn’t develop into anything else, so much so that their dying scene is nothing short of a relief when they do finally croak. So, because of a major disagreement of principles with the themes, I’ll talk about other stuff.
As an outsider who has zero knowledge of the book, I stepped into that auditorium in ignorance. The only thing I did know was that there were two intervals, and in four hours time I could leave (some bailed during the first break). Apart from it being an adaptation, and knowledge of the playwright, I had no surrounding context to place the show in but what occurred there and then.
As ever, Lycuem’s set didn’t disappoint and was evidently respectful of the novelist’s original use of artwork. Via projection, the three acts were drawn ‘in the moment’ before the screen was lifted to reveal the stage. While occasionally overwhelming on the senses, most impressive were the blueprint outlines of the club implying a structure, with measurements and comments from the ‘architect’ all over. The physical set itself was minimalist and, for the majority of the piece, quite underwhelming by comparison (except for the institution – a clinical, white, weird place, I loved it). The predominate feature was a heavily utilised metal frame structure, with several platforms, that could separate in width and height. Pragmatic, sure, but quite dull.
Without Sandy Grierson (Lanark), this really could have been a disaster. The quality of acting was often stilted rather than stylised, giving everyone hot and cold personas per sentence, whereas Lanark remained consistent. Like I said, I didn’t enjoy the fact that stage time was granted to a terrible man leading a terrible life, and even if another hour had been removed, the same story would have still been told. I do, however, take umbrage with how much was and wasn’t adapted. The crux of the story show the rich literally eating the poor, swallowing cities that do not economically perform well. Given how much was supposedly left out of the adaptation, could we not have seen at least an hour less of Lanark’s unchanging diabolical behaviour and another of such a hideous social commentary?
‘Lanark‘ at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh