The Great Almighty Gill review – a thoughtful and fun farewell | Edinburgh Festival 2022

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I writing like someone who laughed with a Bob Monkhouse joke at his mother’s funeral so I get where Daniel Hoffmann-Gill is coming from when he says he wants to share the eulogy he wrote for his father. David Gill died of complications from dementia seven years ago and, as his son recounts, the funeral was poorly attended. He thinks his big speech deserves a wider audience, not only because it was a well-constructed tribute to a lovable thug but also because, sentimentally, he would like to keep his father’s name alive.

Thus, with lectern, flowers and fitted costume, he invites us to relive the sad day, presenting the members of the public as key figures in the congregation, from the ex-girlfriend to the funeral director. It sounds grim, but Hoffmann-Gill has the factual charm of a stand-up comedian, admits his old man was a “dumb,” and shines a light on the shoogly nature of it all. In the first half of the show, his delivery has something of the downcast lyricism of Daniel Kitson in its combination of honest affection and amusing observational detail.

But a eulogy can only last so long. First, Hoffmann-Gill walks us through the highlights of his speech, with his summary of a life of dodging, diving, and dodging the taxman. Then it breaks off to play songs by Elton John (mom’s choice) and Elvis Presley (dad’s). After that, he changes his tone.

In the Angharad Jones production, his first for New perspectives Since becoming artistic director last year, the actor has been telling his father’s life story in more detail, this time in the style of a club comedian, playing it not for laughs but with impetuous delivery and straightforward honesty. It’s a strange tangent that only makes sense when Hoffmann-Gill changes tone again. The biographical material, we realize, is to illustrate what was lost when her father became beset by dementia.

But though he plays the bewildered man with sensitivity, The Great Almighty Gill’s evolution from the universal experience of a funeral to the particular depiction of one man’s illness takes us from public celebration to private act of mourning, a gentle but introverted gesture.

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