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Review: The Man With The Golden Pen @ Brighton Fringe

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

There are few literary creations, perhaps none, as successful as James Bond: over 100 million books sold worldwide, the third highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, and a handful of silver screen legends. But, for all his universal popularity, 007 was once solely the property of his charismatic creator, Ian Fleming. And, as Mark Burgess’ one-man play about Fleming reveals, the man behind the myth is infinitely more fascinating.

We first meet Michael Chance’s Fleming in 1952, when at the age of 43 he is finally about to resign himself to matrimony. In a delightfully developed conversation he imagines with his famous creation – who he was about to present to the world in Casino Royale – he recounts his life, from his education at Eton to and his sexual exploits at Sandhurst, to his time as personal assistant to the director of naval intelligence during the Second World War and his subsequent foray into Fleet Street. The second act is set ten years later. In another imagined conversation with Bond, Fleming details the turbulence of the preceding decade, including the birth of his son, the collapse of his marriage, and the phenomenal success of his books.

There are a few memorable moments: when Fleming relates his bewilderment at Sean Connery’s casting as the first screen Bond, when he recollects his tried and tested seduction routine with obvious relish, and when he recalls how he has unsuccessfully attempted to kill his creation off on several occasions. Throughout, Chance slowly changes from gold, silk dressing-gown into crumpled linen suit – a bizarrely entrancing routine – and choice extracts from his novels periodically play over the speakers – another effective device, which counterpoints Fleming’s recollections neatly.

Chance, under Louise Jameson’s direction is suave and charming as Fleming, capturing that quintessential old-world aristocracy polish – a combination of chocolatey voice, disarming frankness, self-deprecating wit, and wilfully self-destructive habits. It’s no secret that Bond was a highly personal character, an alter-ego through whom Fleming could seduce beautiful women, drink martinis and gamble to his heart’s content, but what Chance is able to elegantly suggest is Fleming’s irrevocably divided loyalty; he is torn between his wife and his creation, between the sobering reality of marriage and the fanciful glamour of fiction.

4/5

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