An intriguing tale made more interesting by the telling, Those Magnificent Men is both delightful and funny from beginning to end. You would expect quirky quality from The Foundry Group and the founders of The Ornate Johnsons and this definitely delivers.
A unique piece of Fringe theatre
This two hander features the understated talents of regulars Brian Mitchell (who also co-wrote) and David Mountfield who is, in a word, charming. They set the scene in the beginning, talking straight to the audience about Sir John Alcock (played by Mitchell) and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown (played by Mountfield) who were the first to make a non-stop cross Atlantic flight exactly 100 years ago. In these days of being able to get on numerous planes and go just about anywhere, we needed to understand that at that time not only had it never been done, but many thought that it was not even possible. This whole piece goes on to be packed full of fascinating information told in an interesting and comical way.
Part documentary and part theatre, the two play all the incidental characters as well, using simple props such as hats to indicate a different person. They move through the characters with ease and it is always clear which character is speaking. They often also become themselves as well, bickering about how they should tell the story. Mitchell is intent on accuracy, yet Mountfield wants to add in fictional pieces to make it more dramatic and they jump out of their characters to argue about it in a hilarious way. Mitchell maintains that the story of them crossing the Atlantic is dramatic enough by itself and he’s not wrong. They do also note the discrepancies in the memoirs of the men they play. For example, one mentions a flask of coffee and the other says cocoa, which is a lovely illustration of the difference in memory. This retelling includes both, making it all the more real.
The use of props is ingenious; they use household objects such as a clothes airer, sheets and tables, and at one point they actually build part of the plane on stage. It’s like watching a Blue Peter-style masterclass. The audience experiences them actually flying the plane from Newfoundland: through fog banks 'like mashed potato', narrowly escaping landing in the sea (twice), up and down in different altitudes, and through chipping ice off the propellers in order to get the engines working again. Even though we know from the start that they succeeded, it is still exciting and at times tense to watch, including the entertaining landing in a bog in Ireland.
They bring an air of hearty humour reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise throughout the piece, and even when things seem to go slightly wrong, such as picking up a clipboard and all the papers scattering everywhere, they include it and make such spontaneous quips that it’s even funnier as a result. A unique piece of Fringe theatre: a true story, faithfully told, with both great comedy and respect.