Unsurprisingly, there are a fair few shows at this year’s Fringe tackling the hottest potato in the vegetable patch right now – Brexit. Few of them are likely to feature such meticulous research or such dexterous impressionism as Kieran Hodgson’s ’75, an all-involving look at history’s unnerving knack of repeating itself more times than Grandpa Simpson.
The title of the show refers to the initial referendum on whether to jettison Europe back in 1975, of which Hodgson claims the 2016 edition is but a limp cover version. In the wake of the recent Brexit vote, Hodgson’s relationship with his dear old mum apparently took a tumble, and he uses this familial rupture as an excuse to delve back into the annals of time and uncover the root cause of the issue. Helping him on his quest is an amiable (if slightly unsettling) German librarian, who feeds Hodgson’s insatiable bookishness and colours his interpretation of the events as they seesaw from one extreme to another. The kindly Kölner also gives Hodgson his greatest gift – an opportunity to impersonate a raft of politicians who have almost all shuffled off their mortal coils and of whom the majority of audience members will only have a vague awareness.
It matters not that the objects of his impressionism are obscure; Hodgson’s real talents lie in embodying regional accents flawlessly and mixing erudition with daft idiosyncrasies to pack in gags that are as tall as they are wide. It’s breathless, it’s bonkers and it’s often high-brow, making it sometimes hard to keep up with the pace of Hodgson’s runaway intellect. Not all the jokes sail at head height, though: there’s also room to shoehorn other iconic (and perhaps more recognisable) personas into proceedings, from RuPaul to the Beatles via a brief foray into West Side Story.
Handling such a polemic topic as the one in question inevitably will ruffle some feathers among those who voted for the opposing outcome, and indeed, a brace of audience members make their feelings known by exiting just as Hodgson is fully hitting his stride. It’s more fool them, though. Not only does he deal with the interruption with commendable quickness of wit, but their renunciation of his show doesn’t let him communicate the fullness of his message.
Rather than divide the room, as the subject threatens and as they insist, he preaches a message of understanding and unity. In these precarious times, it’s one that deserves to be heard by far more people than the 100-odd squeezed into the Pleasance Beneath. For the throwaway one-liners and incredible impressions alone, but for the wholesome sentiments as well, Fringe-goers would do well to make sure they’re one of them.