Reflections: Adolf & Churchill by Pip Utton

(L) Not so solo ticket to 'going SOLO' for Adolf; (R) The imposing Swastika on the stage

Mumbai surely has a vibrant culture when it comes to theatre and plays. The options one has range from NCPA to Prithvi, from Sophia to Veer Savarkar Auditorium. They could also leave one dazzled enough to decide on which one to go for. The first solo play I ever watched was Broken Images written by Girish Karnad and had Shabaza Azmi playing out the role of a woman yearning for recognition in the world of unknown faces. And she did a wonderful job in that. Since then the charm of solo plays has stayed on with me. End of the month of September had the announcement of an international theatre festival ‘Going Solo’ happening in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. An out of the city trip, which didn’t happen later, almost made me miss these two wonderful plays by Mr. Pip Utton. Both of them had a charm of their own – ‘of their own’ because of the specificities of the characters which Mr. Utton brought out on the stage at Sophia Auditorium.

In Adolf, he plays the mercurial dictator and leaves you astounded with the lengthy monologues and temperamental attitude. My own expectations were riding on the excellent performance by Robert Carlyle in Hitler: The Rise of Evil. I was, to be honest, expecting Mr. Utton to burst out on the stage while ranting anti-Jew propaganda with curses being used generously. But it did not happen. Did not happen in the beginning. His coughing represented a Hitler who was weak and feared his defeat at the hands of the Russians. The background tick-tock of the clock made me wonder for a moment if the sound engineer forgot to put the clock off as the play had already started. The beginning of the play was low in energy (again, compared to my unrealistic expectations) and the tempo begins to catch up as it progresses. The use of echo in the vitriolic speeches added to the mesmerizing effect and the use of hand gestures and body language made you believe as if Hitler himself had risen from the ashes to come and enchant you. And there was a surprise. Half-way through the play, Mr. Utton removed his Hitler-like wig, his overcoat with the Nazi Swastika and performed an act which would be called a ‘stand-up’ comedy act. He regaled us with observations on how we tend to make heroes out of none and how heroes make a fool out of us by playing with our emotions. And towards the end, say two or three minutes, he was back in Adolf’s character with the same haunting & echoing voice drilling our souls with fear and hypnotism.

Tickets for Churchill - they made me run and down the hill
My experience of wanting to watch Churchill is in itself not short of drama. I reached around 20 minutes before the play began. Then I realized that neither I nor my girlfriend has cash on us and the college guys with a makeshift counter don’t have swipe machines. So I run out to the uphill to the main street to find an ATM. Punch in the PIN and it says, “unable to process request”. Try it for the second time and end up with the same result. And I realize that I don’t have enough cash in that card. My other cards were at home and I had happily taken them out of my wallet and kept them in my bag thinking why carry three cards when I wouldn’t need them anyway on a working Monday. But still trying my luck, I crossed the busy chockablock road and tried my luck in a second ATM. No money, no play. So I call up my girlfriend and run down the street to get her ATM and somehow manage to withdraw cash and be inside the auditorium on time. Though because of this drama of my own, I missed the opportunity to strike a conversation with Mr. Utton, who was chatting outside dressed in jeans and shirt. Tired and sweaty, I seated myself for Churchill.

Mr. Utton as Churchill, with the world as a globe next to him

Churchill was a biographical play structured in a way that it showed Churchill’s statue, standing over the Thames somewhere near the Westminster, comes alive and starts talking. Mr. Utton brings out the good side of Churchill in the fact that he never cheated on his wife though always surrounded by beautiful women, but also his wrong one as obvious from his tendencies to not let of the spoils of British Empire. Churchill’s life as a young boy playing with his brother, with his parents and in the public schools – all of it – is spoken about by him. He also expresses his anger at Hitler for his overtures in Europe and his desire to rule over the world. The most interesting parts of this play were the ones which focused on the witty, intelligent and ‘man of letters’ side of Churchill, his jolly verbal fights with Bernard Shaw and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mr. Utton even drank a couple of pints of probably whiskey on stage! And smoked a cigar too! The monologues were a little slow in the middle and I surely lost track once or twice, but nothing that would take away the sheen from an exemplary performance. That was Mr. Utton at his best.

For one being able to play the roles of Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill with noticeable ease and panache is not something many actors would be able to do. Mr. Pip Utton, undoubtedly, deserves a standing ovation.


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