Reviews Edinburgh Published 15 August 2012

Adolf

Assembly Rooms ⋄ 13th-14th August 2012

Pip Utton explodes.

Stewart Pringle

Pip Utton’s much praised descent into Hitler’s final hours and twisted ideology is now in its fifteenth year, and while there are moments that would benefit from a little dusting, its ability to provoke and enrage proved undiminished during its short return to the fringe.

Opening in a sea of red light where a swastika glares from centre-stage like a pupil in some macabre peep-show, the imagery is of the Third Reich ascendant. Against this the ticking of a clock reminds us that time is winding down on Hitler and his regime, the gasps of someone running for their life.

The first half of Adolf is presented as a monologue by the dictator on the eve of his suicide, and though the scenario is now familiar, having formed the basis of Hirschbiegel’s brilliant film Der Untergang, Utton’s script is cunningly skewed. The identity of Hitler’s audience, our own identity as spectators, is left unspecified. Our consent and allegiance to his ideals are taken for granted: we are Nazis, receiving the final gospel from a prophet whose work we are implicitly expected to carry forwards – ‘I pass the torch of enlightenment onto you’ His subject is the origin, justification and final goal of Nazi ideology, he quotes extensively from Mein Kampf and ensures that his own self-declared genius remains the wellspring for the creation of tomorrow.

Though there are plenty of despicable outbursts as Utton segues from reflection to rally, his voice suddenly echoing out as if extending across a vast field of goose-steppers, the atmosphere is often chillingly convivial. We could almost be guests at a warm retirement party, where Adolf leaves with a watch on his wrist rather than a bullet in his skull. He insists that his intentions have always been peaceful, he champions scientific inquiry over religious superstition, he proudly vaunts his achievements in rescuing the German economy from the ashes of WWI. But he also trips himself up, his fanaticism breeds contradictions, and the bitter canker swells to frightening prominence.

Utton’s performance is occasionally too amiable, or rather amiable in the wrong way. Hitler’s rhetoric was fashioned in beer halls, where hopeless men drank in his anti-Semitic invective and roared along to his nationalist sloganeering. There’s a touch too much Richard Briers in Utton’s very English and softly-spoken dictator. Richard Briers would not make a very convincing Nazi, and occasionally the trap Utton is baiting damages the authenticity of his performance.

When that trap closes, however, it still has the power to snare and to wound. The second half of Adolf involves Utton breaking character and chatting casually with his audience. He snags a cigarette, cracks open a tinnie and gets down to the kind of insidious racism and homophobia that used to pass as mainstream British comedy until as recently as the mid-90s. It’s the most famous moment in any of Utton’s works, a stroke of genius that proved its potency in spectacular fashion as several members of the audience stood up to protest, several more walked straight out of the theatre and the enraged performer turned on them with a vicious attack.

The extent to which Utton remained in control during three minutes of the kind of breathtaking chaos Ontroerend Goed would give their back teeth for was unclear. He’s an experienced and talented performer, but as he bellowed ‘It’s a fucking play!’ and reeled off the show’s roster of global successes, Adolf rediscovered its sense of danger.

Utton’s prolific output has included almost as many turkeys as triumphs, his one-man War of the Worlds (yes, the Jeff Wayne version, and no, I don’t think he’ll do it again) has been seared into my soul, but Adolf is a work of consummate skill and lasting relevance.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Adolf Show Info


Written by Andy Doorhein

Cast includes Pip Utton

Link http://www.arfringe.com/

Running Time 1 hr 30 mins (no interval)

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