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The No. 9 Bus To Utopia
Published on Saturday, 08 May 2010

It’s a long way to Utopia – and there’s a bloody great hill along the way.  But the bus trip and hike out to the super-sustainable Earthship is a fitting way to start this show, itself a thoughtful and amiable departure from the rat-race of the Fringe.  I stuffed my iPhone and its urgent warblings to the bottom of my pocket; I breathed in the fresh air of Stanmer Park, and for the first time since I arrived in Brighton, truly enjoyed the freedom of the open sky.


Yet this minor personal epiphany was nothing compared to that of our host, David Bramwell, who’s spent a year searching out the world’s more unusual communities in a quest to find his own Utopia.  I felt an instant rapport with the self-styled Doctor Bramwell, partly because he’d done the thing we’ve all dreamed of doing: throwing in his job, and finding some kind of truth by travelling the world.  More than that, though, I warmed to his engaging openness, and after the first five minutes of his narrative I felt I’d known him all my life.

On his travels, Bramwell’s sat in hot tubs in California and caravans in Scotland; there’s been dancing, discovery, and a fair amount of sex.  The eccentric communities he’s visited range from the free-wheeling to the alarmingly controlled, from the spiritual to the scientific and the stunning to the mundane.  The highlight, perhaps, is the fascinating Damanhur, a quasi-religion founded on a far-fetched story they acknowledge as a myth – and whose fantastical underground temples I’m now almost desperate to see.

In the hands of a stand-up comedian, this might all have been a sneering freak show.  But here, too, Bramwell’s chosen the road less travelled – for his approach to all he’s witnessed is utterly sincere.  He’s clearly built powerful bonds with those he’s shared his time with, and while he’s far from blind to their peculiarities you feel he’s fundamentally on their side.  It’s not all wide-eyed acceptance; but when you sense, for example, his amused disdain at the pot-smoking mottos of Copenhagen’s Christiania, you know it’s a credible opinion rather than a cynical jerk of the knee.

The episodic nature of this travelogue was a good match for Bramwell’s style.  I criticized one of his previous shows for being too full of rambling diversions; this time, he has the licence to go as far off-piste as he wants to, knowing that the move to his next destination will get the narrative back on track.  On occasions, though, I wished he’d trusted his natural charm just a little more: his patter felt sometimes over-rehearsed, a carefully-crafted monologue when a friendly chat would have done.  His alter ago as an Open University lecturer also outstayed its welcome, sharing factual nuggets which, if they were needed at all, could have been dropped far more subtly in.

Ultimately, though, this is a fine feel-good show, punctuated by sadness but with an uplifting trust in humanity at its core.  Bramwell didn’t find in Utopia, of course – if he had done, he wouldn’t be back here – but his message is a big thumbs-up for all those who travel hopefully and might, one day, arrive.  There’s no neat, over-arching conclusion to Bramwell’s show, and nor can I find one for this review.  But as I write these words, I find the sun’s come out; it’s time to close my laptop, and turn my face towards the warmth of the light.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.