Edinburgh Fringe 2014
"Goodbye Gunther is a funny, affectionate and ultimately life-affirming show about death. It’s idiosyncratic and a little bit ridiculous, but never trivial. Charmed by Gunther’s optimism and dismayed by his denial, we never lose sight of his humanity in this delightful mix of physical comedy, pathos, tragedy and joy. Directed by multi award-winning John Wright."
Death stalks us all, and we meet Death right at the start of Goodbye Gunther, a lightning-speed romp through the last days of a single man for whom the Grim Reaper has arrived too quickly and is a shock any one of us may face. That’s when the dark comedy starts…
It might be a spoiler to tell you that Gunther is going to die by the end of the show; not so, for we are told that fact right at the beginning ourselves. This is a painfully funny – and I mean very funny – exploration of coping with the ultimate news. Clown-comedy performer Frank Wurzinger plays a man who wasn’t ready for that particular revelation, a man whose entire life seems to have been spent grasping with futility at the next sentence. Frank Wurzinger realises this character on stage brilliantly with a heady mix of physical and verbal banter with the audience and interplay with all kinds of props.
The fourth wall is used ingeniously – it is mostly down, but goes up in an instant when Gunther is suddenly and brutally forced to reconnect with his harsh reality. Gunther is in direct contact with us most of the time though and we are participant-invitees in his rag tag home. The monologue is a highly effective blend of improvised banter and tightly scripted physical movement (plenty of clown) and verbal observation and reaction. This is a man in sudden decline, and Wurzinger is a sure guide into the realms of tragicomedy. He takes on the final thing we all fear and makes it bearable and accessible.
Occasionally there was so much going on that it felt as if the show was going to buckle under the sheer number of verbal and sight gags. But mostly it was the spectacle of a man on top form that won through. There is a narrative, and it is a touchingly sad one, the tears of the clown, put to the service of comedy. This achieves an almost perfect balance in the performance. The sadness is funny. And the comedy is laced with sadness – a sadness that cuts to the quick of the human condition. We are all going to die, and there’s really nothing we can do about it. So, what can we do in the meantime? Gunther wants his goodbye to have some fun and purpose, but even that task underlies the panic we can fall into when we realise our all too real and nearby mortality. Gunther struggles to meet death on his own terms. And who really can?
I thoroughly recommend Goodbye Gunther for the fine, anarchic often precise clowning skills of Frank Wurzinger and the show that deals with death with the grim reality than only tragicomic clowning is able to do.