Pip Utton @ Royalty Theatre
8:00pm, Fri 18 Feb 2011
Hiding away from the Parade side of the city, I thought it advantageous to catch the opening performance of Adolf; “that’s not like you,” said Guy Masterson when I saw him out the front of the Royalty, “picking up Preview tickets.”
Hey – whatever makes it fit :)
It’s certainly a provocative entrance to the Royalty – tall, long, red drapes with the unmistakable black-on-white swastika in the centre, in amongst the plush velour of the stage surrounds. As the house lights drop, the central swastika remains brightly lit and lingers a moment, before fading and allowing Pip Utton to take to the stage in darkness. The highlight almost feels like a dare; a challenge.
Set inside the Führer’s bunker just prior to his suicide, the staging is simple; the drapes, a desk, a chair. Utton initially sits at the desk, thumping it, enraged; it’s an image immediately familiar to anyone who has seen any of the Downfall meme videos on YouTube. And the first “act” of Adolf is very episodic; a chunk of internal monologue, as Hitler muses on his manipulations and abuse of power, followed by a scene where he speaks to his confidantes, his minions, his followers. Rinse, repeat.
The public-facing rhetoric is wonderfully done – these pieces always begin with really uplifting sentiments, ideas that you feel comfortable getting behind… before drifting into the xenophobic rantings which left me shuddering. But it’s the contrast between the internal and external monologues which impresses the most, with overt contradictions a-plenty – to his followers, Hitler assures that he has never broached any international agreement; internally, he muses “promises are for publication, not fulfilment”. The will of the people is also used as an assurance, and laughed off as a ploy.
The direction during this first act is magnificent, with Utton’s pacing and rage tempered and released with great timing. In his final hours, there’s some spectacular lighting where a low spotlight catches Hitler sitting at the desk and frames the shadow perfectly within the bounds of one of the swastika drapes, and there’s a fantastic echoing effect when Utton stands at the front of the stage, creating the impression that he’s delivering his dialogue to a teeming stadium of supporters. And Utton himself is utterly brilliant in his odd role. It’s all rather lovely…
…until the Fourth Wall breaks.
The second (much shorter) “act” is essentially a spoken word piece, where Utton drops out of character and freely ambles the stage, cracking jokes and conversing with the audience, whilst idly chatting about world affairs. This chat is really interesting in that it very much mirrors Hitler’s approach to his speeches; start with the reasonable and enthusiastic ideas, then drop in the hatred, the bigotry. Talk about the wonders of modern life, then toss in some anti-immigration, anti-terrorist bile. And, whilst there’s a feeling that this is all very clever, and very tongue-in-cheek, it also feels somewhat misdirected and confused; worse still, it makes me feel like I’m being lectured to. I’m being talked down to.
And – even more galling – that I’m not being credited with the intelligence to ascertain this information from the first “act” myself.
And I really, really don’t like that in my theatre.
There’s something deeply ironic about having an Englishman – and unfettered English accent – play Hitler; that decision, coupled with the excellent production of the performance, makes Adolf thoroughly worth viewing. But the rambling second act really put me off, and actually had me leaving the performance a little bit angry… having said that, I’ve since talked to people who had exactly the opposite reaction to me (hated the first act, loved the second), and those who were moved to tears by the second act. Looks like it’s just me with the problem, then.