Edinburgh Fringe 2009
A Tribute: Gielgud’s Ages of Man
Venue: Laughing Horse @ The Outhouse, 12A Broughton Street Lane
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
It is easy to expect little from the Free Fringe (in its various guises), and it is fair to say that most of the productions present often lack production values. However, the heart and verve that goes into some of these little gems is truly a sight to behold, and George Innes’ presentation of the life of John Gielgud, told through various Shakespearean monologues and sonnets, as well as Gielgud’s correspondence, is such a piece. Masterfully told, quietly and reverently performed, this is exceptional Shakespeare, and an absolute must for any lover of the Bard. Beyond that, it is a must for any actor, any director, or anyone with any love of theatre. Go, go now, and don’t scrimp with your donations at the end!
George Innes comes from a distinguished theatrical background, having a list of play, film and television credits too long to recount here. Often such lists belie the actual talent of a performer, but Innes is a consummate and incredible actor, embodying over 50 Shakespearean characters in a scant 2 hours, as well as the venerable Gielgud, for whom this Tribute is performed. Innes relates Shakespeare to Gielgud simply and effectively, by recounting Jacques infamous monologue from As You Like It (All the world’s a stage…), and relating Shakespeare’s ages of man to the life Gielgud led. This simple premise takes the audience from Romeo and Juliet to King Lear, from Richard II to Henry VI, in a smorgasbord of Shakespearean excellence.
What makes this tribute so wonderful and worthy is, first and foremost, Innes’ performance. He embodies each character he plays instantaneously and effectively, allowing each monologue or sonnet to flow beautifully from start to finish. Emotions wrack and rage through him at various intervals, and he only gives himself one ten minute intermission to truly recover. The energy is stunning, and the watcher is inevitably drawn into this amalgam of worlds, this Shakespearean paradise where the words and the language are constantly weaved around you. Where characters drop and letters are read, a little simple staging or lighting would have been the cherry on top; as such, these moments are a simple reminder of the performance, and another chance to be drawn into the power of the piece.
There is so much to praise about this piece, and yet so little to criticise. As it stands, it is a perfect tribute to the life and times of Gielgud, and a beautiful performance of some of the best theatre ever written. However, where this piece comes to its own are the moments when the framework is forgotten, when the life and times of one solitary figure become the life and times of all. Shakespeare is famous for his insights into the ‘human condition’ (apologies for the trite phrase), and this piece truly comes to its own as something personal and powerful can be seen, moments already past or moments yet to come in an audience member’s existence. So much life is shown, so much experience, and this is what makes the piece unmissable. Anyone with any theatrical bent could do no worse than see this, be it as a master-class in performance or as an exercise in humility, or for the sheer enjoyment of two hours of beautifully performed classical theatre. Do not miss this.