John Hirsch was an influential director, born in Hungary, orphaned during the Holocaust, and going on to work extensively in theatre and television in Canada and abroad.
Hirsch is a one-man show performed by the talented Alon Nashman, who actually worked briefly with John Hirsch before his death in 1989 of AIDS-related illnesses. The show is challenging to describe, dipping into various narrative techniques and never forming a particularly clear structure. The piece is part-lecture, part-storytelling, and is crying out for more clarity.
It is almost impossibly difficult to follow, the chronology seems to be all over the place, and it demands a very high input of concentration from its audience. It doesn't help that I hadn't heard of Hirsch, and many of the
references meant nothing to me. I don't doubt that he was hugely influential in Canada, but 20 years later in the UK, he's not widely known. It begs the question of how much of a Fringe audience will ever be particularly
knowledgeable about the man. Unfortunately to be able to follow the story, one seemingly needs to be.
The show should be much simpler and more informative, but sadly leans into self-indulgence. A particularly weak device is the occasional heckling by
the character of Hirsch of the performance itself (Nashman steps into playing Hirsch, who then shouts at Nashman). It's odd and doesn't really fit, and actually took me several minutes to work out what was going on.
Long sections of re-enacting Hirsch in the rehearsal room (essentially one-man performance extracts of Brecht and Chekhov plays) seem to be constructed more to showcase Nashman's skill than serve any real purpose in developing our understanding of Hirsch's character. What little we do learn of Hirsch isn't particularly likeable, which makes everything even harder to connect with emotionally.
Although moments of the show are truly engaging and moving, with some lovely staging devices and beautiful lighting, I can't help but question why this piece is relevant. It's been a huge hit in Canada, in the same way that a similar show about Joan Littlewood for example may be in the UK, but the piece just isn't interesting enough to stand on its own without significant prior knowledge of the man.
- Chris Snow
Hirsch continues at Pleasance Courtyard until 25 August (not 14)