© Pip Utton 2012
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
Pip Utton is a consummate performer. His new play Churchill is a delightful, intelligent insight into the life of Winston Churchill.
The play starts in Parliament Square with Utton as the statue of Churchill on his plinth. When the chimes of Big Ben strike thirteen, an occurrence that happens only once a year, the statue comes alive and descends from the plinth to indulge himself in three of his greatest pleasures; a glass of scotch, a cigar and listening to himself talk.
For the next sixty minutes, Utton wittily entertains the entranced audience with anecdotes and amusing memoirs of Churchill’s life.
We learn of his early childhood and his bad experiences at prep school and his father and mother, whom he calls, “a bright enchanted star”, and his devoted love of Clem, his wonderful wife.
He recalls his life in the army and of course his political career particularly during World War II. He also shares the moments of “black dog depression” when he had to recall the troops and the urgency to inspire the British people to fight back.
Utton uses some of Churchill’s famous speeches that are delivered with passion and assurance.
Churchill was bitterly disappointed when he lost the post-war election, feeling betrayed and spurned, and the black dog returned; his salvation was his painting. They were exhibited in the Royal Academy. He won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1953, was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States and in 2002, in a BBC poll, was voted the greatest Briton in history.
This is a tremendous show beautifully performed and should not be missed. Highly recommended.
As the theme of “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” fades and Big Ben tolls, a third emblem of the United Kingdom comes to life. The figure of Sir Winston Churchill stirs.
When the Palace of Westminster clock strikes thirteen, the statues of Parliament Square are granted a magical hour of animation when they can indulge in their favourite pastimes: in the case of Churchill, whisky, cigars and listening to himself speak. He wants to expand on his life, now so abbreviated by guidebooks to his beloved London as to scarcely warrant 75 words.
There’s no shortage of material as he charts an erratic course through 50 years in politics during which he held practically every high office. Hearing the words as if from his own lips, it’s a personal tale too — from his childhood relationships with his “enchanted star” mother and overbearing father, to his love for his wife, his constant, darling Clementine.
The man often seen as a pugnacious bulldog is simply “Pug” to his wife and she his Sweet Cat. “I kiss your vision as it rises before my mind," he writes; "Your dear heart throbs often in my own.”
The adoration of his wife is equalled only by his love of the written word and we are, of course, treated to one of his polemic speeches from the height of the struggles of World War II. The effect is powerful now; in context and at the time it must have been nothing short of electrifying.
There’s more to the man than war-time leader, and he is keen to flesh out that paltry guidebook entry to show his prowess both as historian, writer and artist. While the production is comprehensive, it’s also highly entertaining.
The script is peppered with Churchill’s put-downs and pithy humour. It initially feels surprising, out of place, but those who knew him commented on his “Puckish humour," his “boyish chuckle” and “tremendous sense of fun." Utton combines some of these ripostes, which were intended to flatten but leave the impudent alive, to ensure that Churchill always gets the final word – and the last laugh. One self-confessedly cheap gag is perhaps not worthy of the great man, but does get a huge jingoistic cheer.
What is perhaps less well defined is that Churchill was described as an emotional sort of man, moved to uncontrollable and unashamed tears. There could be a little more shade. That said, Pip Utton puts in an assured and compelling performance and, as was said of Churchill himself, his words seem to “bubble up, without notice, without effort”.
It is indeed a magical hour, and one of Utton’s finest.
Perennial one man Fringe legend Pip Utton returns once more, this time bringing Churchill to jowly, acerbic life over sixty minutes. Utton’s delivery is remarkable, catching Churchill’s unique intonation and rhythms without resorting to caricature and, unfair though it is to say, he looks quite like Churchill, too. Utton gives us not only the great statesman, but moments of touching intimacy as Churchill talks longingly to his dead wife. Sharply scripted with plenty of laughs to balance the more serious, darker moments – in fact, the best jokes are drawn from Churchill’s own bon mots. An entertaining, moving and informative hour of drama.
Written and produced by Pip Utton,the maestro of the solo show takes on the man with the cigar.
A few years ago, I went to see a one hander on ORSON WELLES. The show began when the actor stuck his head outside dark curtains wearing a black hamburg and uttered a few lines from THE THIRD MAN. His impersonation was so uncanny, it gave me goosebumps. He went on to act out Welles' brilliant but failed life as actor, innovator and larger than life character, even morphing into Wells by adding padding in front of his dressing room mirror as he got older and fatter.
Well, Pip Utton inhabits Churchill much the same way, reminiscing about his childhood, first experiences with war and evolving into the great world leader he became, rising magnificently in his country's hour of need. Pip doesn't look much like Churchill but he live his character with its all consuming gigantic ego and ever present cigar. When he recited the famous war speech about fighting on the beaches, shivers ran down my spine.
Chruchill is such an overpowering person with so many sides to his character, it is a challenge to convey the man himself. During the 1930s, he was the highest paid witer in Europe. He won the Nobel Prize for literature. Chruchill also was an artist, orator, politician and, of course, arguably the greatest statesman of his time. Utton takes this challenge and conveys something of the man with humour and respect.
While it is fascinating to attend biographical shows because you learn a lot about a public figure, Utton makes real theatre out of this performance. In theatrical terms, you would be justified in saying the production values are high, that it contains real theatrical elements.
Churchill starts in a surprising fashion and thoroughly entertains throughout. If you like one man shows, do not miss this one.
Utton is the old man of one man shows on the Fringe, the Telegranh calls him "the doyen of one man shows.". I first saw him morphing from a racist bigot into Hitler some ten years ago, a one person show still talked about and one he reprises this Festival.
As I walked out and asked Utton what character he was planning to do next, he replied "Casanova." Good luck, Pip, I'm sure it will be worth seeing.
Reviewed by Kerry napuk 16th August 2012
The master of the monologue returns in his new play, Churchill. Pip Utton’s Winston has just one hour in which to climb down from his plinth in Parliament Square and have a drink and chat with his audience as he reflects on his life. There is very little of the British Bulldog in this performance, instead we are treated to the subtler aspects of Winston’s life – the humour, the sadness and the belief that someone had to stand up and be counted. Utton is unafraid to use humour and at times the first twenty minutes felt surprisingly like a stand-up routine as he gently set up every gag. The script cleverly showcases the razor-sharp wit that underpinned so much of Churchill’s oration. It also allows the mid-section of the show - when Churchill considers his failures as much as his successes in war - to be all the more affecting.
Moving seamlessly from his childhood war games with his brother, Churchill considers the real life conflict he found himself embroiled in as First Lord of the Admiralty during World War One and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign which led to his departure from the Cabinet. Moving the audience effortlessly from comedy to tragedy, Utton’s portrayal left us with a real sense of the responsibility Churchill felt for this failure and the heavy heart upon which the rest of his political life was founded. The Churchill family were a complicated clan and Winston cannot help but compare himself with his own father’s lack of political fulfilment. Thus, the famous ‘Black Dog’ descended upon him and he took solace in his painting. Whilst it may be his wartime leadership for which he is best remembered, we are reminded that Churchill was also an accomplished artist and Nobel Laureate winning author. Utton’s multifaceted characterisation explores every nook of the complexity of Churchill and is at times both revelatory and extraordinary. It is not until the final third of the performance that we see Churchill in more familiar guise, however. This is Churchill at war and at his best. Utton is careful not to overplay the stereotype and maintains a portrayal which tends more towards reflection than impersonation. During his delivery of the definitive ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech, you could hear a pin drop as the audience was both stirred and uplifted by the orator. Utton had the audience in the palm of his hand.
As a study of Winston Churchill, this piece is informative and surprising. You get a sense that he was not in fact born to lead, but simply saw it as his job to do so when nobody else was up to it. As a performance, Utton demonstrates why he is the undisputed king of the single-hander. This is a beautiful, sympathetic but realistic portrayal of Churchill the flawed man, who had the courage to become the greatest Briton of all time.
A stalwart of the fringe, Utton has won over audiences as famous figures for years. Now this doyen of the one man show is setting his sights on the most celebrated Briton in modern history – Winston Churchill.
As Big Ben strikes 13 the statues in Parliament Square descend to spend a precious hour walking around and in Churchill’s case, listening to himself talk.
Churchill is a dream subject, rich with witty quotes and speeches that changed history. One would almost imagine this show could write itself. But Utton weaves acres of material together very nicely into a charming hour. It seems indulgent to lap this up now in Jubilee year while spirits are already high, but giggling along one doesn’t seem to mind.
Rich in tongue-in-cheek jingoistic humour this is almost Churchill doing stand-up. But Utton is savvy enough to play on our fondness for this great statesman and he is a clever enough mimic to give us a touching glimpse of the man, not just the prime minister, who ensured the UK's survival, and ultimately, victory
ACROSS THE ARTS
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.
THEATRE GUIDE LONDON
Pip Utton's career as a portrayer of real people in self-written monologues began more than a dozen years ago with a show about Hitler, so it is perhaps about time for him to get around to Churchill, but the wait has certainly been worth it, because this hour is one of Utton's finest. He begins with the fantasy that the statues in Parliament Square come alive for an hour every time Big Ben strikes thirteen ('Lincoln always goes to the theatre – he forgets he won't see the second act.') Utton's Churchill steps down from his plinth to his old offices, pours himself a generous whiskey, and chats amiably with us, not just about historical events, but about his marriage, his cigars and his envy of Nelson for having a bigger column to stand on. Some familiar anecdotes and quotations appear, though Utton tends to steer away from them to more personal insights, like Churchill's egotistical but usually correct assertion that he was almost always right when he and the government of the moment disagreed, and his explanation that his marriage survived despite their having very different interests because they shared one overriding interest – him. Utton doesn't push the impersonation into parody as too many Churchill imitators do – he's padded himself up a little and lowered the natural timbre of his voice, and that's really enough. And as an added attraction to this evocative and entertaining portrayal, there's a lot more humour than some might expect, with Utton's Churchill telling more jokes and getting more laughs than many stand-up comics. Gerald Berkowitz
The publicity for this show initially confused me as to what it was about. Big Ben striking 13 made me think of Orwell and I was expecting a show about how modern times differ from Churchill's times. Well I didn't get that, but that is no problem. Sometimes a show challenging your preconceptions about it can add rather than subtract from it.
Pip Utton is rapidly building a reputation for being the master of the one man historical show. And rightly so, for in this he brought Churchill to life and actually looked and sounded like the man.
The basic idea behind this story is that once a year Big Ben strikes 13 and at that moment the 10 statues in Parliament Square in London come back to life for an hour, and here we follow Churchill. However this basic concept has given Utton enough material for at least another 9 shows.
It tells of Churchill's life, his parents, schooling, his relationship with his brother Jack. Then his adult life, his policies leading to the slaughter of 45,000 Britons in the First World War. The wilderness years up to 1940 and then his finest hour.
I was surprised at how many laughs what I assumed were well known quotes by him got, and there is humour throughout this show. There is also a certain amount of good natured audience participation throughout the show, which I've never seen Utton do before. It works well.
Then we get the wartime speeches. We all know the one liners, but here they are placed in context with long quotes from them, which makes their powerfulness even clearer – oh, how I hate the sound bite.
This show is clearly the result of an enormous amount of research by Utton. Churchill lived a long life, wrote much, and much has been written about him. But Utton's brilliance has been to distil this life story into an hour's enthralling theatre. See it if you possibly can. Martin Powell Theatre extra
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