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Heil Utton!

Pip Utton's rendition of Hitler was also about how prejudiced we are as individuals

`The Germans wanted to know: "Why did my dad or granddad follow this silly little man?"' — Photo: Vino John

HISTORY AND histrionics were stirred into a potent theatrical cocktail by British actor-writer Pip Utton in his brilliant solo show, Adolf, directed by Guy Masterton, staged at Guru Nanak Bhavan last week. We watched Utton transformed as the megalomaniac who changed the face of the last century; we were chilled by Hitler's torrential invective against the Jews, Slavs, gypsies, and other `inferior' races. We tuned into his obsession about German nationhood, veering between the Fuhrer avatar that cast terrifying shadows against a swastika backdrop and his more vulnerable self during the Berlin bunker countdown.

But once Utton had unbuttoned his jacket and ripped off his dark wig and moustache, we lauded his consummate communication, his impeccably rendered, deeply researched script, and his disconcerting staging of political rhetoric. His proved an arresting tour-de-force.

A professional gemmologist and jeweller until eight years ago, 52-year-old Utton did not merely render Hitler's rise to power as a terrifying testimony to Nazism. In the ironical second half, laced with local wit, he proved just how prejudiced we are as individuals. His last onstage Hitleresque words resonated long after the curtain call: "I don't need a second coming. I never went away. You hear my voice everywhere, every day."

What's Utton like offstage? Here are glimpses from an excerpted pre-show interview at the Hotel Grand Ashoka, following a workshop at the British Council:

When did you realise that Hitler's life might be a parable for our times?

Quite early on. Bringing up our sons Sam and Charlie, who're 17 and 12, it sprung from an awareness that we're still surrounded by racism and intolerance. (Passionately) I didn't think I could ask them to be racially tolerant if I didn't display it myself.

What was toughest about this show?

It's difficult to play Adolf Hitler. You don't know what to do with the man, though people still recognise the Hitler traits... It was heartbreaking to read the Nuremberg transcripts, and to challenge the audience's preconceptions of their own intolerances. It's funny, and I don't do comedy. But Masterton pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of.

Pip Utton: `We're surrounded by racial discrimination.' — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

How did it feel to do a Berlin season of Adolf?

I was worried about the reactions to an Englishman, somebody from the winning side, who had come over to play the baddy. The performances went well. It was emotional for both the German and Jewish people. During the interactive sessions that followed, I recall a man about my age reflecting on how I could, if I wanted, ask my father what he did during the war, but he couldn't. He was afraid he'd be ashamed of the reply. Almost 60 years on, the guilt of what happened and the inability to understand how it happened is as strong as ever. (Gently) I don't want my sons to be afraid of asking me.

The Germans wanted to know: "Why did my dad or granddad follow this silly little man? How did he get away with it?"

Was there any support for Hitler?

Twice. A young lady supported his stand against homosexuals. Another asked if I didn't think Hitler was right, in the light of communism, Israel, the financial institutions as Jewish pressure groups? Though it was chilling, others jumped into the fray. I didn't need to say anything.

How about the Jewish response?

In the show, Hitler says all Jews should be castrated, that man's evolution is being held back by the cancer of the Jews. Many cried to hear this repeatedly... .

Jewish organisations tried get the play banned in Holland and in Australia, favouring censorship without seeing or reading it. They presumed the image was wrong.

How did your family react to your career shift?

After 25 years as a jeweller, I was terminally bored. (Chuckling) But my wife's pleased because, while most men in their midlife crisis go chasing their secretary, I'm chasing a dream. Of acting.


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