Brighton Fringe 2023
Trains, planes and Bernie Eccleston feature in a mini-epic adventure into history and heritage in post-war Essex. Using hand-made models of cars and people, film and photography, there’s lots to learn and to love in Chris Dobrowolski’s new show, premiering at Brighton Fringe.
Written and performed by Chris Dobrowlski, with co-writer & director Paul Bourne for Menagerie Theatre.
Chris Dobrowolski declares himself a fraud. He’s not a performer, he’s a visual artist pretending. Not quite true – he has a couple of very successful ‘theatre’ pieces in his back catalogue – but a key driver of his art is the question of authenticity and what makes things real.
In the atmospheric and perfectly matched surroundings of Brighton Toy and Model Museum (what, you’ve never been? Go, it’s a jewel) with just a screen and a paddle for pointing, Chris takes us on a whizz-bang journey from his early obsession with cars, to making models and kinetic sculpture, becoming an artist on the university lecture circuit and way beyond.
Many people have tight emotional attachments to childhood toys. Most of mine were taken away when I was twelve and I still search flea markets for a sailor doll with an HMS Mauritania hat. Chris is currently living in the Essex home he grew up in, with his 91 year old mum, surrounded by mementoes and memories of his personal history.
Confident and relatable in his easy-going delivery, with proper Essex swearing, Chris weaves a narrative that connects the life of his Polish father and their German friend on a post-war housing estate, where streets are named after military heroes, with his own artistic development. The history of place, how the local becomes universal brings the story full circle in an hour packed with juicy information. Sounds a bit formal, more biographical lecture than art? Not so, because everything is illustrated through Chris’s fantastic miniature models, choreographed and story-boaded, mixing real with fake, still images with film, documentary footage with invented scenarios. As an artist he gets an idea and runs with it; his residency at Bedford Libraries is a joy. Like Richard DeDomenici turning the De La Warr Pavilion into a crazy golf course, he knows how playful art brings people together.
What begins as biography stealthily develops into a manifesto against right-wing governments, fascism and the ideology of our current political leaders. Priti Patel is a local MP; Chris shows her spitting out refugees who float off in a tiny dinghy, probably filmed in his bath-tub. It’s a quietly elegiac moment in this busy, buzzy hour.
There’s some nervous energy in this second ever performance that will relax over time into a more conversational style, and a bit of trimming wouldn’t go amiss but Toy Stories feels like a keeper.