Bacon @ Pleasance Courtyard

Pip Utton returns to the Fringe with a supremely intricate dissection of the life and works of Francis Bacon

Review by Dominic Corr | 10 Aug 2021
  • Bacon @ The Pleasance Courtyard

It wouldn’t be a return of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe without a performance from one of its lucky charms, world-renowned solo performer Pip Utton. In previous years he has revived works pertaining to Adolf Hitler and Albert Einstein. For 2021, in the contemporary era of offence and opinions, Utton is showcasing another of the controversial characters in his repertoire – artist Francis Bacon.

If you’re expecting a cheap tell-all biography, you won't find it here. Instead, be prepared to roll up your trousers and trudge ankle-deep into the murk, filth, and unexplored avenues of one of Britain’s pioneering contemporary artists. Bacon – whose personality and work have repeatedly been described as violent and unnerving – was a man with a life as complicated and fascinating as his art. 

The script, developed from Bacon's memoir, is sublimely intricate. In true Utton form, his metamorphosis into this juggernaut of the art world goes beyond the superficial and into the realms of sculpture. Avoiding caricature, the direction reigns in any distortion which pushes the brink of believability – an accomplishment given Bacon’s reality-perverting demeanour. As expected, the more leeway Utton has to play with, the more intense the energy. The greater the outpourings of despair and sensation, the more engaged we find ourselves.

The chances are Francis Bacon would despise this celebration of his life, which is perhaps the finest compliment that can be paid to Utton. With this show, he has crafted a piece that serves not to flatter, nor to answer questions. Instead, Bacon leaves audiences with one simple request – to think for themselves.

Bacon, Pleasance Courtyard (Rear Courtyard), until 13 Aug, 4.45pm, £10-12