'Michael Brunström: Parsley'
★★★ The Scotsman
Nothing is as pointlessly silly as it might seem in Michael Brunström's latest opus, Parsley. Not his blowing balls of paper off a book at the floor, not his garnishing us with sprigs of parsley. OK, some things are. The singing of made-up Cockney market songs, the metronome snogging and the frequent appearances of George Orwell singing easy-listening classings. Brunström's book of New Material, from which we read, goes beyond silly, past surreal and comes back to just hilariously funny.
We, as an audience, are called upon frequently and for increasingly absurd reasons. We sing, we sift fact from non-fact and we cheer for our respective parsleys (curly or flat leaf), in whose name we battle, the air full of tiny planes. We play slide whistles, recreate seminal moments in the history of parsley and come up with a multiplicity of thyme-based puns. All just a waste of thyme? Absolutely not.
Brunström's shows are things of beauty and love. The bloke in front of me sat arms folded and stone-faced throughout. Each time I hooted with laughter, he turned and looked at me askance. I feel very, very sorry for this man. Learn to love Michael. It will enrich your live.
'Michael Brunström: The Hay Wain Reloaded'
★★★★ The Scotsman
Michael Brunström offers, inter alia, an hour with John Constable, culminating in a recreation of his masterpiece The Hay Wain, the chance to becomes Willy Lott's Cottage or a handsome spaniel and a chance to play Elgar's Cello Concerto on Noel Edmunds.
Do not worry how unlikely that sounds because it all makes sense once you are there, taking your place in the Suffolk landscape. Although I am a mere tree in the background I am fully engaged in Brunström's narrative, many of the salient points offered with simultaneous translation into bongo, for those of us who speak percussion.
We learn – through a trio of short sketches involving a game of Deal or No Deal, a monochrome minidressed Mary Quant and Anita Dobson en deshabille singing 'Anyone Can Fall in Love' in a Marvel character mask – about the three pillars of the masterpiece that is The Hay Wain: Nature, Work and Nostalgia. How these sketches illuminate our understanding of nature, work and nostalgia is up for debate, quite frankly, but Brunström's skills as a a game host, Mary's gripping tales of her time harpooning whales off the coast of Newfoundland and Anita – well, you really have to see Anita for yourself – are so sense-bendingly entertaining that understanding is really not the point.
Brunström's epiphany at the end of the show is both moving and extremely messy. And the results are available for sale, after the show. After all this, we are as appalled as he that The Hay Wain only reached No. 2 in the Nation's Favourite Painting poll. Go for the great merchandise, go for the marvellous classical music, go for a game of beachball. But most of all go for some great, crazy, never to be forgotten comedy.
★★★★ The Skinny
Michael Brunström beguiles the Fringe once more with a curious and captivating hour on the nation’s second favourite painting.
Nothing is predictable in Michael Brunström’s The Hay Wain Reloaded, as we might expect from the winner of last year's Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. Nothing, that is, besides the mention of The Hay Wain – John Constable’s most celebrated work.
Beginning the hour as Constable himself, Brunström delves into the mind of an artistic genius (both Constable's and his own), highlighting the key themes of The Hay Wain: nostalgia, work and nature. Through a series of vignettes, we soon learn how Constable’s painting embodies such unexpected figures as Noel Edmonds, Mary Quant and Anita Dobson. We also find that Brunstrӧm is the sole patron of the Hay Wain giftshop; beach balls are for sale on exit.
While it is perhaps not quite as sharp as 2015’s The Golden Age of Steam in places, it more than makes up for this in its clever and coherent structure. This makes it a little easier to follow and Brunström is a charming guide. In all, The Hay Wain Reloaded is a ramshackle, surrealist delight.
Sister Wendy was never like this. Absurdist Michael Brunstrom offers a most eccentric take on art history, relating the story of John Constable’s masterpiece in a way just as likely to bemuse as amuse.
He uses the painting primarily as a jumping-off point for three surreal, extended sketches about Noel Edmonds’s deepest secrets, fashion icons whaling off Nova Scotia and an scene involving a 1990s celebrity that’s virtually indescribable. Or at least you wouldn’t believe it, if it were to be described.
For whatever you say about Brunstrom, you cannot fault his commitment to the weirdness. Dance like nobody’s watching, they say, and he applies the same ethos to acting out crazy ideas which the more easily embarrassed might keep in their heads. Instead, he heaps oddness upon oddness.
The risk of self-indulgence is ever-present, though Brunstrom mostly sidesteps it. Nonetheless, he is clearly amusing himself first and never forces his strangeness, just invites the audience to share in his unselfconscious performance. There’s always a bit of distance, though, making it difficult to get completely immersed in this very alternate world, for all that’s admirable about his distinctiveness
That’s not to say the show is without the near-obligatory audience interaction, which is well-handled, with the aim of making his ‘volunteers’ feel like playmates in the fantasy world he’s creating. Brunstrom breaks the ice by instigating a couple of in-jokes, and by making himself the victim in an hilariously silly reading of a Wordsworth poem against the odds.
There are plenty of laughs, too, at the sheer audacity of his eccentric ambition and the bizarre juxtapositions he evokes. Sometimes, too, there’s more than that, a wry aside, a strong, silly idea, or subtle breaks in his pretence that make it more than just randomness.
For there is a purpose, however cockeyed, here. While the three main skits allegedly show Constable’s triple inspirations – nature, work and nostalgia – they are loosely splattered onto a canvas that purports to show something of Constable’s world: his defiance of the fashionable romanticism so prevalent at the time, or the disappointment his industrialist father must have felt at his son’s early failings to make an impact in an insecure career.
We can only imagine if there are parallels in Brunstrom’s life as he stands in front of us in his unflattering underwear, bucking the mainstream trend for everyday anecdotes in favour of unabashed absurdity.
Will future generations come to see Brunstrom as a visionary artist? Come back to me in 200 years…
'Michael Brunström: The Golden Age of Steam'
★★★★ The Scotsman
As he enters, accessorised with peaked cap and whistle we, the audience, shout “chuff” at indiscriminate intervals until we eventually synchronise and, lo, we are the steam train alluded to in the title of the show. This is a strange and wonderful hour. There is a short introduction involving a tiny fern which we applaud and then we dive right into the first section of the show which is all about airport impressions. I won’t ruin your experience by telling you the answers, the fun is working it out for yourselves. You won’t, of course.
After Brunström “takes an ambiguous stance”, we have an emotional moment in which we say goodbye to his hat. Things might have turned depressing here but Brunström gets the room back with some violence and destruction aimed – we are all delighted to see – at Jeremy Clarkson.
Remembering the Eighties provides one of the show’s lighter moments before Brunström gets risky and tries some Intellectual Comedy involving an Ironic Trowel. “Not everyone’s going to get it” he admits, but I think most of us did. Possibly. Or not, it doesn’t really matter. There are pingpong balls and a hula hoop, Thundercats and a range of sophisticated cockerel impressions. There is also a deal of audience participation so bring your thinking caps.
At one point we decide where the performance is going and the tight vote almost brought the whole show to a halt. Not quite, as again Brunström’s ready wit saved the day. The Speed Poetry competition is not to be missed. Clarkson fans will not like the Grand Finale. I absolutely loved it.