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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Stunning The Punters (and other stories)

George Dillon

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: Spotlites


Low Down

A gripping, visceral and wryly funny evening of physical theatre from George Dillon, with 3 stories from Steven Berkoff, Robert Sproat and Fyodor Dostoyevsky


George Dillon’s trilogy at the new Spotlites venue in George St is a bit of an onslaught on the senses. Artaudian attack, Grotowskian poverty and the rich texts of Berkoff, Sproat and Dostoyevsky combine well for the majority of the offering.

The difficulty is that, at an hour and 45 minutes for the three plays, the performance as a whole feels like it overreaches a little. I can’t help feeling that any two of these served together would be a gripping and satisfying offering. That aside, Dillon is a charismatic and consummate performer and well worth a watch.

Steven Berkoff’s “Master of Café Society” seems a logical place for Dillon to go to for his first piece – his familiarity with the author, his performance style –  mixing up physical precision, vocal gymnastics and animal edginess helps to deliver Harry’s endless, workless, thankless days as a jobbing actor. Each day faultlessly observed – morning walks, ever the same breakfast for fear of confusion, the intrusion of the real world – those with “proper” jobs, in suits or overalls, tapping laptops, chipping stone and pouring concrete. By adopting a sense of purpose, Harry – the actor who has never “made it” – deludes himself into feeling he actually has one. Mum thinks he’s in the same handsome league as Paul Newman – Dad that he’s seen much worse actors pick up better roles. So what’s wrong with Harry? Nothing really. He’s been spotted on the telly as an astronaut – you could tell it was him even though he was in that helmet. He appears to be functioning, but deep down he’s crushed because nobody knows who he is. Berkoff is keen to underline the honesty of the theatre actor and the hypocrisy of those taking the King’s shilling of film and television. Dillon is razor-sharp on the physicality and mime, flitting easily between the characters, painting a warts-and-all portrait of Harry with an occasional well-placed (and perhaps personal) twinkle in his eye.

Robert Sproat’s “Stunning The Punters” takes us into the dark world of the working-class far right – the upfront racist. Our narrator, shaven head, jeans, polo shirt and red braces is the archetypal avatar of “Oi For England”. Using a gentle physical underscore of playing darts, we receive the story of the narrator’s friend Spike, the orchestrator of a vicious race-hate campaign in North London – (ironic as we are told that his father is actually an Hacidic Jew). Spike is keen to organise the motley crew of friends down the pub to make a grand gesture – huge graffiti messages right in front of the eyes of commuters. This isn’t about the persecution of one man having his head kicked in on the High Street – this is on an epic scale. What follows is the meat of the piece. It is a difficult and uncomfortable watch, because it is all too credible, close – and cyclical. Dillon rings the changes from the frenetic pace of the opening piece, the physicality is more measured and the darkness shot through with light touches of wry humour.

“The Dream Of A Ridiculous Man”, drawn from the story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is the final piece of the evening. It is a bigger challenge than the other two, the narrative almost an entire philosophy in itself. Dillon, in a dark suit, barefoot, enters with a ghetto-blaster playing Orthodox Russian hymns. He carries a small box and a stool. This is the most set that Dillon uses in the entire evening, but it’s telling. The stool enables a physical change of level, the box a spiritual one. He appears troubled, perhaps he’s mentally unstable – or maybe he’s a visionary? The story unfolds in waves of broad-ranging voice and gesture – having witnessed the heartless society around him, he commits suicide and commences his journey – or perhaps it’s a dream. Transported to a planet very similar to Earth he encounters a society entirely free of taint – and simply by his presence infects their perfect world. Dillon asks Dostoyevsky’s direct question – don’t we all long for a return to paradise? It is undeniably a powerful performance, full of genuine emotional weight.