In a bar in Cambodia, a young Scottish tour guide is telling stories to travellers. There is a note of grief in his voice, hidden behind sarcasm that is concealed by a grimacing smile. There is a world-weary sentiment to it, and yet you cannot help be sucked in, into the world that is Colin Bramwell’s life; you are now within this world within a world.
A shimmering constellation of memories in its unceasing attempt to reconcile the death of a friend with the universe surrounding it.
Umbrella Man is a beautiful amalgamation of story-telling, poetry, drama, comedy and music. Colin Bramwell is proficient in all these fields, and it is ultimately this humble attitude that Bramwell carries with him that emerges as his most likeable characteristic. He doesn’t seek to impress you with his polymathic abilities, but you are nonetheless well aware of his prowess. From the comically bizarre piano number about sandwiches in Subway, to his well-liked jokes about Love Island; from his quips about Doulas MacArthur, to learning about rain in primary school and meeting his lifelong friend Natalie, Umbrella Man is an extended metaphor for the silly yet precious moments in life as much as it is an extended commentary on the Millennial generation. The Scottish poet employs elements of avant-gardism, but doesn’t succumb to absurdist theatrics. Instead, his story’s progression has a defined, albeit initially confusing, direction that is told eloquently through Bramwell’s mesmerising, soft-spoken voice.
With attention to Ancient Chinese conceptions of the cosmos, Umbrella Man unpacks the Flat Earth theory through the medium of poetry and the assitance of a globe-emblazoned umbrella. ‘Illuminati’, but one of many noteworthy poems to mention, is a ridiculous yet hilarious poem that perfectly sandwiches the decline of the NHS with conspiracy theory-fuelled hypochondria, quickly lambasting both popular political targets and contemporary capitalist society whilst perfectly emulating how arbitrary connections are made when in a state of paranoia. The antidote to this is a soft piano ballad about fresh water in Scotland, intercut with jokey comparisons between Cambodia and his home country.
This comical display puts the audience at ease; but it is only temporary. Recounting his travels in southeast Asia, Bramwell recalls how his naivety and good nature led him into very unfortunate circumstances. The show takes a dark turn in describing Bramwell’s subsequent experience of being scammed and robbed at gunpoint, missing his flight home and left to pick up the pieces. The odd start in Cambodia finally comes full circle, but it is far from the end and certainly not the most devestating blow.
His childhood friend Natalie, a reoccuring figure in his poetic monologues, reappears with just enough to muster a farewell; it is never explictly stated, but comes off no less tragic. And with the death of Natalie, the ending reveals he is no longer acting. A trip on the 30 bus to Niddrie bleeds into a heartfelt rendition of Steve Windwood’s Higher Love, a haunting send off to his childhood companion, and with that the story ends. You are back in that Cambodian bar, one of many backpackers passing through Phnom Penh to listen to the life of Colin Bramwell.
Bramwell's protean, mercurial imagination, is seductive and yet intangible, delivered with unnerving ease in spite of given risks. But more attractive is the show's unwillingness to offer conclusion: through evoking nostalgia, it leaves you with little answers but many questions and much to ponder in the wake of what can be described as a monumental triumph. In securing its place at The Fringe, Umbrella Man becomes a shimmering constellation of memories in its unceasing attempt to reconcile the death of a friend with the universe surrounding it, linking its sentimentality back to the nucleus of the flat-earth theory in a frayed web of poetry, story and song.