Pip Utton - Churchill

Pip Utton

The Assembly Rooms

From 01 August 2013 to 25 August 2013

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

Paired up with just a few performances of his Adolf, Pip Utton celebrates his twentieth year on the Fringe with a revival of another of his well-loved pieces, Churchill, giving a sort of political balance to his coverage of the Second World War.

This is a far more straightforward piece than Adolf; whereas the other play uses an unusual construction to make political statements about today, Churchill is more straightforwardly biographical and even nostalgic, the latter enhanced by music as Vera Lynn plays us in and out and Elgar's Nimrod underscores some of the more famous and rousing speeches ("we shall fight on the beaches"). Having said that, Utton can't resist a few cheeky digs at current politics, such as when he makes the great man "deeply hope you never have to suffer from a coalition government".

The device used to bring Churchill to us is for the statues of former prime ministers to come to life in the House of Commons when Big Ben chimes 13. As David Lloyd George heads off to the nearest pub, Churchill steps down, with the help of a member of the audience, to talk to us. He complains that many people who look at him need the inadequate summaries in their guide books to know who he is at all.

The rest of the piece is a jump through the major points of his life, but not strictly chronologically. Utton plays with time a lot, so sometimes we are listening to the statue Churchill with the same historical knowledge as us, but sometimes he is back in his historical context without the knowledge of what was to come. This is complex to describe but blends together neatly without ever being confusing.

There is also a neat blend between the play and direct quotes from Churchill, whether the big speeches or his many witty and cutting remarks. We also go through the more traumatic moments in his life, especially Gallipoli in 1915 when he was blamed for the loss of 46,000 men and two ships and his defeat at the 1945 general election after he had led the country to victory. However he said the best decision he made in his life was asking Clemmie to marry him.

If you're hoping for new revelations about the great man or for dirt to be dished on him you will be disappointed. However as an entertaining and well-performed biographical piece with plenty of humour and a few things you may not have previously known, it is well worth seeing.