A hilarious and intelligent take on impending mortality at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This article is from 2014.
Like the best clowns, Frank Wurzinger does not wear a red nose or big shoes. Instead, he evokes the pathos of human life through a self-conscious vulnerability, a mastery of characterisation and the occasional pratfall. Following the last hours of the titular hero, Goodbye Gunther is a hilarious take on impending mortality.
From the moment he comes on – dressed as death – Wurzinger engages with the audience. That his attempts to impress constantly fail, and that he gives a running commentary on the various techniques he is using, only adds to the intimacy of the show. When he emerges as Gunther, it is clear that Wurzinger is both a skilled physical comedian and captures the wistful demeanour of a melancholic stand up comic.
Gunther is a tragic figure, bumbling through life. He deals with his imminent demise in the same way as he has lived his life: he tries to be hopeful, he knocks things over, he insists on his normality. Wurzinger plays with his German identity, teasing the audience with his country's success and undermining the stereotypes of organisation and humorlessness, before building Gunther's character into a rounded, recognisable individual.
Although death stalks the show, the laughter is never unkind: Gunther is clearly a failure in life, but he approaches his death with a measure of dignity. His passions for Cliff Richard and a goldfish called Michelle reflect a deep loneliness and desire to be loved: his interactions with the audience are charming and tentative, far away from the abrasive rage of Red Bastard but sharing a similar interest in their opinions and health.
Clowning, at least in the UK, is often associated with children's theatre, but Wurzinger uses the familiar antics as a way to tackle a serious, and difficult, subject. His discussion of the tricks he is using to entertain reveals the intelligence behind the laughter, and the ending manages to be poignant without any sentimentality.
Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, until 23 Aug, (not 11), 12.50pm, £8–£10 (£7–£9).