Based on Hitler's writings and rants, this provocative piece of theatre is uncomfortable but essential viewing
Pip Utton has been performing Adolf since 1997. Created from the words of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Table Talk, the uncompromising monodrama arrives in Lisburn with little fanfare.
It’s not the sort of production you can really sell to the masses, after all – a lone actor reciting the Führer’s venomous propaganda. Still, the Island Arts Centre’s studio theatre is sold out, with an audience ranging from young couples to gentlemen who look like they may have personal experience of fighting the Nazis.
The stage is sparsely set, with just a swastika-laden flag hanging at the back, and a table, chair and glass of water up front. A ticking clock is the only sound. On the strike of 8pm, Utton appears, sporting a Hitler outfit that is just this side of Freddie Starr.
‘Life does not forgive weakness,’ he rants in character, spitting the names of wartime Germany’s perceived enemies: ‘the Jew, the Slav, the gypsy, the communist, the homosexual’. ‘Scum must not be allowed to beget scum.’
It takes a few minutes to get used to Utton’s English-accented delivery, his rolled R’s and the expletives that pepper the speeches (for all his evil, did Hitler really swear this much?). But once we accept the idiosyncratic interpretation, Adolf is a mesmerising piece of work.
Utton’s Hitler refers to himself as a ‘genius’ and a ‘great man’, justifies his tactics (‘War cannot be fought by the rules of the Salvation Army’) and offers comfort to the Nazi Party faithful to whom he is giving this mock address in his Berlin bunker in 1945 (‘If the world hates you, know it hated me first’).
But it is in the second half, after Utton has removed Hitler’s wig and moustache to speak to the audience in person, that things become truly uncomfortable. Building from a couple of mildly un-PC gags and a tale of how he lost his father in World War II, Utton ratchets up the tension with a stream of poisonous diatribes.
It’s unfiltered abuse, taking aim at Jews, Muslims, blacks, gays, women, Eastern Europeans, Australians, Irish… Utton even wades into N-word territory. I’m no prude, but I have never felt so outraged and am on the brink of walking out. A handful of audience members beat me to it, grabbing their coats and leaving in disgust. Others, disturbingly, are roaring with laughter, revelling in Utton’s bile.
Indeed, when the actor encourages the crowd to extend our arms in a Nazi salute, ‘for a laugh’, my girlfriend and I seem to be the only people not to comply. Yet something tells me it might be worth sticking this out to the end, that all might not be as it seems…
And so it is the case. In the final five minutes, having incensed the room to the point where violence looks likely, Utton flips the performance on its head, revealing that he has in fact been playing a character. The suggestion is that Hitler has never gone away, that his foul ideologies live on in the casual prejudices of the occasional taxi driver, Daily Mail journalist or embittered actor with a chip on his or her shoulder.
If Utton sends just one person home questioning their beliefs or feeling a sense of shame, then he has succeeded. This play is not easy viewing, nor is it a pleasant night out. But as a piece of provocative political theatre, Adolf takes some beating.