Thirteen-O'Clock, Parliament Square, London. Big Ben has struck once too often and for one hour the statues that litter Westminster descend from their plinths to wonder the city. Winston Churchill, played by an impressive Pip Utton, takes us through his life - his childhood, the alcohol, the cigars and the marriage - to make for a compelling, amusing and warm hearted play.
The setting could not be better and the thrust stage is littered with the tools of stately office, all under the guard of a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. This is a piece about who Britain's 'greatest' man was, with the aim of celebrating a multifaceted personality full of wit, wisdom and the pains of national service on the greatest possible scale. It begins with a mopey thought that we have forgotten the man behind the statue with which I'm not sure I agree. Indeed, we could not be more obsessed with the guy, with thousands of biographies and films devoted to his life and times. However, there is more to Pip Utton: Churchill and as we progress we are touched by the adoration for his wife and his love/hate relationship with the military. The latter is especially profound as we are asked to engage with how many lovers, parents, children and friends of victims will hate Churchill for the consequences of his decisions.
Utton is wonderfully moving in presenting this torturous onus of responsibility which helps one sympathise with all decision makers. Furthermore, Utton shows us that Churchill is not only great because of WWII but because of his mind and passion to do the right thing; he was not just in the right place at the right time but earned his place in history.
Utton's impersonation is believable with a wonderful voice that captures the essence of the part, merging his own qualities as well. The script, however, lets the show down because it wasn't dry enough. Too often it read like a list of anecdotes and one liners without the context necessary to make the famous quips really funny. I felt many of the jokes fell flat after being enforced on the audience, resulting only in muted chuckling. For me, Churchill's wit depends on it being off the cuff rather than the pre-prepared nature of this delivery.
I liked Pip Utton; Churchill; it is an interesting, engaging and appreciative celebration of a great man. Yet one should see it more for the curious, eerie setting and to enjoy watching Mr. Utton than to learn something new about Sir Winston. Whilst Utton's battle to be believable has ended, I would love a battle for a better script now to begin.