Brighton Fringe: Garry Starr: Classic Penguins, The Bunker @ Fool’s Paradise

Brighton Fringe: Garry Starr: Classic Penguins, The Bunker @ Fool’s Paradise

There’s a figure on stage, sitting on a black draped swivel chair with his back to us, signature neck ruff, tails coat and top hat clearly in place, surrounded by a large cloud of vape smoke. Stage right there is a stack of books, clearly identifiable as the Penguin Classics press, with bold orange shapes flagging the title and author above and below. There is also a television screen, table, and small camera focused on the flat of the table, displaying what it sees onto the screen. Right now, before the show has even started, it is displaying is a copy The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The stage is set, anticipation ante upped, and as the lights dim and Garry Starr slowly rotates his chair to display that the only other thing he is wearing is a pair of flippers on his feet.

Laughter ripples from one side of the stage to the other as he casually reveals his naked state, puffing with a serious stare on his vape pipe. It’s an absurd mockery of elitist academia, with a delightful extra twang of the metaphorical trouser braces when he opens his mouth and a cod intellectual accent comes out, pronouncing that he will “perform every single book written by a penguin.” Where do you go when you start turned up to 10 like this? 11. Of course the reset of the show is fabulously, ridiculously, fantastically turned up to 11 throughout. A delightful leftfield, off kilter, affectionate, hilarious tour through the classic titles of literature.

Garry Starr is an accomplished clown, and Classic Penguins is a masterclass in the serious nature of being extremely silly. Part directed by Cal McCrystal, currently working with Glyndebourne, this is high end clowning made very accessible. There are sound cues throughout – one for each novel of the Penguin collection, which Starr meticulously replaces in turn under the camera, turning his attention to each title as it comes up, working his way through the collection in its entirety.

Lampooning and embracing high culture is what Starr does, having previously turned his attention to the likes of classical Greek Gods and every genre of performance in the book. You’d think it might become staid to him, but the steely faux-pompous focus is as sharp and fresh as ever. He shreds through classic titles, smoothly seaguing from ‘Perfume: The Story Of A Murder’, to ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, and into ‘The Great Escape’, guiding an audience member to star in these brief depictions with that magic clowning telepathy that somehow communicates exactly what is needed and generously shares the free-flowing laughs and attention.

It’s ingenious and celebratory. With an enjoyable finale that is joyful, wacky and choreographed. Each title is a precious reveal (hence the lack of many specifics here, no spoilers), and the show is generous with its moments of live-theatre magic that couldn’t be captured in any other form. By the end Starr’s nudity has become normalised, as he’s thrown himself around and upside down in it for the last hour. It was the starting point. The finishing point, a stage that has been lightly scattered with fruit, books, a mini trampoline and a wildly re-demarcated audience comfort zone.

Classic Penguins is currently touring, playing at The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol 19-20 July, and in the Edinburgh Fringe’s Pleasance Courtyard in August.



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