• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

With past performances as Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler, the legendary and critically acclaimed actor Pip Utton returns to the Fringe with another one-man show titled Bacon, a portrayal of Irish cult contemporary artist Francis Bacon. Pleasance Courtyard plays host to this latest Utton production where the stage and the performer are perfectly framed by beautifully arranged hedges. This style of stage production suits Bacon’s retrospective look at the trials and tribulations of his turbulent life of controversy and sexual debauchery. 

Bright lights surround Utton and beam down on the several empty glasses of wine that lie on the table next to him. Throughout the show, Bacon doesn’t hesitate to crack open a few more bottles as he boasts of his homosexual desires and many sexual experiences. Bacon’s nostalgic monologues about his past lovers and romantic flings are beautifully accompanied by John Coltrane’s jazz masterpiece Naima. The slow, restrained melody fits perfectly with the highs and lows of his immense career and lovelife. 

Utton’s representation of Bacon is straight to the point, unhinged and honest at the same time. At one point during the show, he asks the audience “Why are you here?”, “What do you want from me?”. At one stage he pleads with the audience to “think for [them]selves”. If you are looking for a laidback, relaxed look at one of Britain’s most celebrated figurative painters, you’ve come to the wrong place. Utton stands on stage, draped in black wearing a long black leather trench coat with a slicked-back quiff, a look synonymous with the celebrated artist.  

The script itself is both intimate and in some ways interactive. Utton at several points invites audience response and participation, at one stage even criticising the dress sense of audience members. Whether this interjection was actually scripted or not is unbeknownst to the watcher but it certainly gave a further sense of reality to the performance. Indeed, at no point does the script attempt to steer away from tendentious and forthright language.

In a time where artists and performers are becoming increasingly more careful and aware about what they display to audiences, Utton isn’t one to stray from flamboyant depictions of colourful characters. You’ll be hard-pressed to find shows at this year’s festival that are daring enough to go into the sort of subject matter and detail as Bacon does. As Utton climaxes his performance he teases the audience with a promise to return next year, no doubt scanning through the other controversial figures in his repertoire.

Aug 6-13 (16:45, 20:45)
Image credits: Alex Nickolaus