WELCOME to Churchill, the stand-up years. Or at least that’s how it often feels in Pip Utton’s one-man recap of the iconic British prime minister’s life and times, with many of the anecdotes and biographical nuggets recounted ending in one of Churchill’s famed bon mots as a punchline.
The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
Star rating: * * *
Drawing comparisons with Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony, Utton is the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square come to life. Offering the debatable opinion that visiting schoolchildren and even their young teachers don’t know who he is any more – has Utton not seen Doctor Who or The King’s Speech? – the actor nails the jowly vocal rumble, infusing it with a pinched sense of sometimes off-colour humour (“Nelson had the courage to defeat the French, I only had the stupidity to save them”; “don’t clap, he’s a servant” to the man who helps him down from his podium).
This tone jars a little at first, but it adds up to a layered picture of Churchill which accentuates his contradictions, painting him as both the staunch middle-English conservative whose foreign policy and attitudes were often bullish, and as the well travelled, half-American internationalist who would become a figurehead of the Western world.
The play is consistently amusing, delicate where Churchill recounts his relationship with his wife Clem and stirring when he delivers the “finest hour” speech. As for the witticisms, they still stand up today, for the most part. Just don’t mention the socialists.
• Until 26 August. Today noon.