Churchill

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.

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The Blurb

Big Ben chimes and strikes 13! In Parliament Square, Winston Churchill’s statue wakes for one hour. Descending from his pedestal the great man looks back, looks forward and entertains. ‘Utton’s words touch you deep in your heart’ (TheaterParadijs.nl).

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