Fringe preview: Pip Utton: Playing Maggie
Festival veteran is Playing Maggie at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015
This article is from 2015.
Pip Utton’s solo shows have become something of a Fringe institute: from Casanova to Churchill, Utton goes beyond mimickry to find the essence of historical characters. Having taken on Hitler and Francis Bacon, Utton is taking on another controversial 20th-century figure: the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher.
This is not a hagiography or a condemnation of the Conservative former Prime Minister: her recent death saw celebrations – in Glasgow, calls were made for a street party – and respectful memorials, with a museum of her life currently being mooted.
‘I allow the audience not merely to listen to Mrs T but also to question her directly during the performance,’ says Utton. ‘That is both a challenge for me as an actor, because I have no idea what I will be asked and I will have to answer as her, but also for the audience to 'buy into' this whole notion that the dead person is alive and standing in front of them talking not at them but with them.’
Utton denies, however, this his work is merely about the worthy dead. ‘It just happens that to date they have all been historic characters,’ he insists. ‘I have to believe that they have to have made an impact in their lives. That fascinates me.’
Utton refuses to either praise or condemn her: ‘I enjoy the chance to try to portray that dead person without the need for me to make judgements about them, that isn't my job, I'm not an historian. I see my job and my challenge as an actor and writer is to allow an audience, knowing that the character is dead, to believe even if only for a moment or two that they have spent time in that person's company.’
With Thatcher’s legacy still up for grabs, and her influence on contemporary politics reflected in both Conservative and New Labour policies, Utton is using drama in the way that it begun in ancient Athens, as a public forum for debate. Whether his single show of Hitler (Adolf, Assembly Rooms, 22 Aug) is a wry comment on his longer run, however, is unknown.
Assembly Rooms, 0844 693 3008, 7–30 Aug (not 17), noon, £10 (£9). Preview 6 Aug, £9 (£8).