Brighton Fringe 2008
Lies Have Been Told
Venue: The Udderbelly
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Accident? Murder? Suicide? Philip York’s bawling, smoking, champagne guzzling Maxwell tell you his side of the story… if you believe a word he says!
Lies Have Been Told is a comic portrait of Robert Maxwell – the infamous media tycoon who mysteriously fell off the back of his yacht in 1991. Performed expertly by Philip York, he managed to capture Maxwell’s arrogant and inscrutable nature, without overplaying his character – something that an actor could easily fall into when dealing with a personality this large.
The show starts at a point when Maxwell is about to seal the deal for his purchase of The Herald Newspaper – his unfailing confidence that it is ‘in the bag’ a telling hint at his belief in his own infallibility. As he chomps caviar, swills champagne and insults the audience, we are treated to an engaging story about how he made his way from penniless Czech jew to millionaire business aficionado.
Maxwell’s story is a fascinating one, which some may argue tells itself, but it takes a skillful actor to engage an audience for over an hour and a half, and York managed to achieve this with panache. There were some clever plot devices to make the audience aware that this was a one-sided view of the Maxwell tale – him removing his vast belly soon into the first act being one of them – ‘I was never as fat as people made out’ roars York to a quaking audience.
There were a couple of points however where the play fell short of excellence. The sound was consistently bad throughout – the sound effects being far too loud, and totally unnecessary at times. Why, for instance was it needed to have the sound of Maxwell’s body splashing into the sea, when the whole rest of the piece was set naturalistically in an office? York’s talent conveyed us to the back of the yacht better than sound effects ever could.
Also, there was a long period of time in the middle of the show, where Maxwell went offstage, and came back dressed in football clothes (which were not referred to in the narrative, but I presume made reference to Maxwell’s time as chairman of Oxford FC.) It is not often that a one man show can retain momentum when the sole actor leaves the stage for three minutes, and this was no exception.
That being said, York managed to grab the attention of the restless audience fairly quickly after that, and offered up some interesting and humourous theories as to how he actually died. It was his acting that carried the show, and it is a shame he was so let down technically.