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Michael Across the Festival '12 - Aug 15

Michael Cox reviews Churchill, Liz Lochhead: Making Nothing Happen and Jigsy.

Today was proof that a one-person show doesn’t have to follow the same outline. Three shows, all with one cast member, and yet they couldn’t be more different.

Big Ben chimes thirteen times, thus bringing to life the statues in Parliament Square for an hour. So begins Churchill (****), Pip Utton’s stirring monologue. The set-up might be gimmicky but the play is certainly not. Utton not only makes a great crack at portraying the statesman and his life but has also written a very solid script. Focused more on making Churchill into a man than a figure, the play finds ways of humanising his life and experiences.

It’s all very simple, but it is also very well done. Churchill is not only interesting and funny but is full of interesting information and facts about the man. It also makes one feel angry towards the modern political system and how our current leaders are letting us down in these, our own trying times.

Liz Lochhead is a national treasure. She’s a great writer who is both charismatic and intelligent, and she has a stage presence that is equally warm and compelling. Any doubters looking for evidence need look no further than her current Fringe show Liz Lochhead: Making Nothing Happen (***). The show is exactly what it advertises itself as: for one hour, Lochhead reads selections from her cannon while chatting a bit about her life and inspirations.

It might not be wholly original, and some of the work might hit better than others, but the hour goes by quickly, and Lochhead makes for a great host. She might have been put off by the heat of the venue and had trouble with a poem she’d misplaced during the performance I saw, but Lochhead is nonetheless a compelling speaker and artist, and her voice is a refreshing antidote to the subpar writing that one can find during the Fringe Festival.

Like Jigsy (***). There is a genuinely great show buried somewhere within the script, but playwright Tony Staveacre hasn’t successfully found it. Jigsy is a seasoned comedian who speaks to us in the middle of a set, and he has seen a lot of interesting stuff—on and off the stage.

There are nuggets of greatness. The play has some fun insights into famous comedians, and there are some interesting personal scenarios concerning the protagonist, but the script is all over the place and doesn’t give the audience much to cling onto or care about; right when you feel like investing in something, it goes off in another direction without returning. It’s frustrating because, with a bit more development, this could really be a cracking story.

So thank goodness for Les Dennis, who not only gives a very grounded performance that manages to hit all the notes but more than rises above the material he is given. Playing the clown crying on the inside, Dennis is captivating to watch and manages to make the audience laugh and grimace, sometimes at the same thing. It’s a brave, committed performance that fans and non-fans alike should find worthy of their time, even if the play itself isn’t.

Churchill, Liz Lochhead: Making Nothing Happen and Jigsy are on at the Assembly Rooms on George Street. Check programme or website for dates and times.

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