In light of very recent events, there can’t be a more topical show title at the Fringe. With world leaders curiously silent about the sudden resurgence of the far right, or offering almost tacit approval, who can we look to for guidance? Look no further than Anna Mann, the greatest actress of her generation (her own words). She takes the audience on a whirlwind trip round the country, looking for the voice of the people, and trying to understand where fascism can spring from.
Colin Hoult plays Anna as the classic English has-been, floating on a cloud of denial and misplaced self-belief. He mixes what could be an almost tragic figure with a waspish personality and viperish tongue. Several unfortunate late-comers receive the brunt of this. It’s a character we’ve seen before, but in the hands of Hoult, she’s a vivid, vibrant creation.
She’s so good in fact, that when he dips into other characters – like a thinly-veiled Nick Griffin, a Momentum member of weapons-grade passive-aggression, and a loutish Nottingham film-fan – we’re left yearning for Anna’s return. No one denies the aplomb with which Hoult plays the other roles, but he’s just so good as Anna.
It has to be said however, that these other supplementary characters play an important part. Along with Anna, they’re deliberately painted in broad strokes with a narrow world view, whether their political persuasion is right or left. The message of the show could be one bemoaning a lack of nuance or balance in the big discussions of the day; and it is the black-and-white, us-and-them dichotomy that allows extreme views to not only form, but to take root.
This is the real brilliance of the show. There’s a subtlety to the message hidden under the bluntness of the delivery. This isn’t beating you over the head with worthiness. In fact, the merciless take down of verbatim theatre is worth the price of admission on its own. Coaxing an audience member to don a duct tape ‘tache and pretend to channel Hitler isn’t big or clever, but it is incredibly funny, and Hoult never forgets that.
If you wanted to take Anna Mann and her breathless tales of twelve husbands, her splendidly-named friend Sue Clinch who is stuck in a portaloo, and her gentle ribbing of her audience at face value; you absolutely could and you’d have a great time. Scratch beneath though, and you get the feeling there’s something very sly, and very intelligent going on. There aren’t any answers to the show’s title, but it feels like the right questions are being asked.