Note: This review is from the 2021 Fringe

Francis Bacon‘s paintings often prompt a visceral reaction in their viewers. But what of the man who created them? Pip Utton‘s compelling monologue, Bacon,┬áprovides an insight into the life behind the energetically applied paint.

Bacon as depicted here is a man in search of experiences that might make him feel something. Following an unhappy unbringing, he leaves Ireland for Berlin with his uncle in the 1920s and having enjoyed the company of his uncle, moves on, mostly drunk, to enjoy the other freedoms of the ravaged city. Painting, Utton suggests, was a way for Bacon to depict how things made him feel. But for all Bacon’s brash self-confidence, Utton also shows his self-doubt, even his self-hate and a constant simmering seething regret.

Pip Utton is a regular visitor to the Fringe. This Fringe finds him in The Pleasance’s courtyard which has been covered (serendipitously as the rain thundered on the marquee for a sizeable portion of the show). A stage has been set up at one end and the audience are seated in bubbles. It’s the Fringe, more or less as you know it.

He’s a consummate performer and the piece is directed with elegant restraint by Geoff Bullen. He wrote this script a few years back with Jeremy Towler (and it won various prizes then) and sails through the witty, quixotic, charming then self-loathing monologue with aplomb, despite stiff competition from the rain. Where Utton’s projection probably made it to the back of the room, the soundscape did suffer at the hands of the weather but only to the detriment of the atmosphere rather the storytelling. And right now, less than perfect outdoor theatre feels a million times better than no theatre at all.

Utton’s performance is a pleasure to watch. He commands the audience’s attention perfectly comfortably for the hour. He swills a bottle and a bit of the champagne throughout the show (is it real?!) and does an awesome rendition of progressive drunkenness. His script is funny and thoughtful. His observations on the man pay proper tribute to his talent while also indulging his seedier unseemly side. This play may not prompt you to rethink your world view but it’s a masterclass in acting amidst a rainstorm and if you weren’t interested before, it’s likely to get you onto Google and searching for Bacon’s art.