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FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

An out-of-work actor’s frustration explodes over breakfast in Steven Berkoff’s Master of Cafe Society, an ex-skinhead tells a tale with a ghostly twist in the title story by Glaswegian writer, Robert Sproat, and a would-be suicide dreams of paradise in Dillon’s own adaptation of The Dream of a Ridiculous Man by Fyodor Dostoevsky.


George Dillon is considered by many to be the finest exponent of Physical Theatre in the UK. In twenty years of occasionally watching him perform, I have seen nothing that would counter that claim. In fact, if anything, his shows continue to improve with time.

Stunning the Punters, is directed by Laurence Boswell, in which Dillon actually presents three short pieces of theatre by different authors of which I shall comment here:

Master of Café Society by Steven Berkoff

From the moment Harry, the London actor, wakes from his night slumber and clears his throat, producing a green, disgusting amount of phlegm that he ceremoniously spits into a tissue, you know you’re in deepest, darkest Berkoff Country! Harry, is in the process of fighting off inner despair from his sheer lack of acting work. In the café, he observes those around him who appear to all be in work, dressed in their various ‘work uniforms’ of suits, overalls etc. Harry however, is most definitely not working but gives lie to the illusion of being fully occupied. Yet when he visits his parents at the East-End family home, they constantly bombard him with absurd and irrelevant comments. His mother believes beyond doubt that her son should be working since ‘he bears a likeness to Paul Newman’ while his father, goads and belittles his son, that he fails to contribute to them financially in their advancing years, since he has to keep himself in theatrical make-up!

Dillon has performed this work to audiences up and down this land almost a thousand times, yet he never appears to tire or grow stale. Far from it; these same renditions just keep getting better and better.

Stunning The Punters by Robert Sproat

Just when you thought you were getting to grips with Dillon’s range of personas, he appears as a ‘far-right’ ex-skinhead who relates a tale in which he was caught up in an act of despicable racism. Although this piece was written over a quarter of a century ago, the relevance of the script is tragically just as pertinent today and one is left pondering how little in our society has truly changed. Despite the evil, racist act committed by this group, there are still riffs of real humour injected into the piece which bring a little light relief to this otherwise grim tale. Although it is shocking to hear racist language of this nature anywhere, theatre must continue to boldly reflect life back to us in all its glory and horror. It is a sad reflection that these minority views still persist today.

Dillon is wonderfully mesmerising in this role and although you are repulsed by the character, there is a dreadful magnetism that makes you want to keep on watching. Disturbing and provocative it most certainly is.

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man by Theodor Dostoevsky adapted by George Dillon.

In this final piece, whilst a man is considering his own suicide, he falls asleep and dreams that he has killed himself and travelled to another planet where people live in harmony and remain undefiled by evil. However, over time, his own presence defiles these people and he believes he can only redeem them by offering himself as a sacrifice for their sin. Yet he is met with hostility and is treated as a madman. The man is only reconciled by believing that humanity is not fundamentally evil, but has only fallen from grace. It is a story of its time, in that it reflects much of the Orthodox Church’s effect upon the Russian nation. He concludes by compassionately imploring his onlookers to love one another, even as we should love ourselves.

The performance is as inspiring as it is profound, related with true intensity and passion. It is rather like a religious experience in itself.

Twenty years ago I thought this show was great, but Dillon is like a fine wine that has rested and matured with age. His performance is now deeper, and his delivery carries greater conviction. Certainly the Punters were Stunned and captivated by this performance and at the final curtain call, Dillon left the stage to rapturous applause.

Arguably, no single person in British theatre has a better understanding and presents a fuller expression of physical theatre than George Dillon. His vocal range is phenomenal whilst his physical presence is captivating. Superlatives become redundant.

If you have not seen this show, please take note of it and rush for tickets when he is next in your area. Dillon next performs this at The Hawth Theatre Crawley, on Wednesday 27th July. Dillon will also be taking this same show to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. See it to believe it!