Aptly, given what is to follow, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy introduces Kieran Hodgson’s new show. Okay, it’s being murdered on the violin by the man himself as he makes his way through the audience to the stage, but the sentiment is a nice one. It turns out that this is just misdirection, like Les Dawson’s classic piano routine. Hodgson’s more than competent on the screech plank. In fact, he’s been attempting to write a symphony for the last seventeen years.
Having had one of the great hits of last year’s Fringe with Lance, Hodgson had his work cut out to replicate that success. Break out Beethoven’s 9th again though, as happily Maestro is character comedy that works on every single level. Structurally, it’s magnificent. The symphony provides not only a compelling central metaphor, but the four movements that comprise it correspond to the four stages of Hodgson’s life he dramatises onstage.
Hodgson is a spellbinding performer. Guided through his life by his spirit guide Gustav Mahler (to whom he attributes the voices of Christoph Waltz, ‘Kieran Hodgson lookalike’ David Tennant, and bacon-avoiding miserabalist Morrissey). We first see him as a sociopathically precocious eleven year-old, meeting his first crush. We hear pre-recorded snatches of the first movement and how his emotions at the time informed his musical choices. This he repeats for every stage.
Even played as a straight dramatic piece, Maestro would be a thoroughly compelling glimpse into the creative mindset, and the life of an artist of real ambition. It’s almost bloody sickening then, that this may well be the funniest show at the Fringe as well. One can see how young Hodgson’s classmates might have taken against him. There isn’t a single aside, reference, or moment of characterisation that falls flat. It is blissfully funny. The moment he attempts to seduce a young man through the medium of Sprechgesang has to be seen to be believed.
At each stage of his journey we meet a colourful cast of characters. There’s his admiring musical teacher, a delightfully louche French ex-girlfriend, and a flatmate obsessed with nihilist philosophers. Each are beautifully rendered and memorable. Of course, the main character is Hodgson himself. At turns maddening, supercilious (the routine about the ‘smooth’ Classic FM is industrial strength snark), lovelorn, loveable and naive, he’s a phenomenal creation. We’re onboard with him through every twist and turn of the tale, right to its beautiful and poignant conclusion.
Like the music Hodgson adores, this is comedy that feels in some way transcendental. You leave Maestro feeling uplifted and elated. It’s a show about attempting to sculpt your life into what you think it should be, through music or otherwise. And if it unfolds in a way you haven’t intended, that’s okay. It’s the journey that’s the joy.