Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“The star of ‘Dempsey and Makepeace’, ‘Episodes’ and ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’, Michael Brandon gave himself two years to star in a Hollywood movie. Still there after 50, he now lifts the lid on a half-century of showbiz. From De Niro to Pacino, Tony Curtis to Kim Novak and the Bionic Woman! A freeway with many off-ramps. A hilarious, telling hour of Hollywood truths! Directed by Olivier Award Winner (Morecambe) Guy Masterson.”
This is the stand-up story of a journey of self-discovery, and a few encounters with the “bounceless bottom” of Life. Michael Brandon, star of TV and film, and award-winning Broadway actor takes us through one story – how own. It’s more story than stand-up, more raconteur than theatre, yet all of those ingredients combine to form this satisfying performance. A rousing cheer greets our performer host in a show keeps attention from start to finish. Fromm childhood to later life, from life as a lawyer to the decision to go for the dream, there’s plenty to keep is interested. A cement city kid, lonely and down trodden finds a way to create his own path. A famous man. A film star, a human being…
Now one important question about a show like this at the Fringe is: If you didn’t know Michael Brandon at all, would this still stand up as a show worth seeing? I think the answer is yes. Of course, it helps to know the man – you’ll certainly recognise a lot of the Hollywood icons, actors and film stars he has associated with in different ways in his life and you’ll savour the stories and anecdotes that are shared. Yet this is an accomplished piece of stand-up storytelling in its own right. It’s the story of a life, and there could be more to that story as it doesn’t end today, but parks up over a quarter of a century ago. It hints at a sequel or an update? For sure, if you don’t know this man in his famous skin, you can enjoy this anyway as strongly realised bit of theatre about someone.
Deconstructing Brandon: Assured performance who can hold a script but also gently break free of it when he wants to, but he never does that gratuitously. So we have a piece that dips into stand-up but mostly resides in performed storytelling, paced and blocked wiih equally assured direction. That makes both performer and piece very accessible, enjoyable, informative and, on occasions inspiring. Some pointed and moving self-observation mixed with more than enough comedy pay-off lines and funny stories. A life worth living and a life worth heaving about.
This is the tale of a human being that breaks free of back-alley family life, and ends up in the world of movie-making, love and pain, career and endeavour, loss and learning from the school of life. There’s clearly a script here, written with economy and well chosen observation of self and others. The show is aided by photos and film. A bit of attention is needed to the stage-craft here. The film and images lost clarity as several bright, orange-gold L.E.D lights poured onto the screen. Take them down when we need to see!
The performance is very human, assured, though also subtle, paced to avoid overload, allowing vulnerability and humanity to add to the gags, one liners and verbal story-set pieces. There are a few “reveals” – if you don’t know this biography well, you might just be surprised at who the man worked with, formed friendships with and even hit on or slept with. There’s some brutal honesty here and a sense of a life lived, a necessity to the steps he took and yet there is also honest, reflection and some raw regret. We live, we love, we laugh, we wound and are wounded. The story here has texture, is philosophical in places but largely rooted in action, decision – grounded in the importance of the “next step” – and we rarely know if that is the right step until we take that damn step.
I enjoyed this as storytelling and I’m no great fan of Dempsey and Makepeace (My mother adores this man) as so many of the audience members clearly were. He has fans in the audience, but though I am no fan; I appreciated and enjoyed this hour. I wasn’t bored for a moment – was engaged in a well-told story. It’s well written as a script and skillfully performed because script and performer really come together and the style is easy, open and there is, on occasions, a naughty twinkle in his eye as he shares his story.
This is a very good show that will refine further over time. As theatre there’s scope for a little more silence here and then and some further decisions about how image and film is to be used. I’d put the performer in front of a much larger and clearer screen. Film clips were pertinent, and some images truly added to the narrative. Others felt a bit plugged in as stock photographs. Multi-media is a genre in its own right, has modernised a lot recently, and this show needs some media dramaturgy. It certainly isn’t bad – in fact it’s good use of media – but it could be outstanding.
You won’t be disappointed with this show, whether you know the man’s life and portfolio or work, or not. It’s high quality auto-biographical story stand-up, delivered with refreshing directness. It hits the ground running from the start and gives revealing insight into a life and into the world of movies and stardom. Good solo work indeed. Very good story sharing on stage. Recommended.