This play was so of the moment, it didn’t even make it into the Fringe Festival guide. Only on the death of Michael Jackson, after Edinburgh entries had closed, did inspiration strike Charlie Brafman, a New Theatre alumnus, as Jackson’s death proved an artistic loss for fans the world over but an artistic catalyst to him. So it follows that the company has taken the only Michael Jackson satire up to the festival, guaranteeing them press attention and attracting reviews ranging from morally outraged damnation of the sketch as “purgatory,” to enthusiastic endorsement of its “bizarre brilliance.” Regardless of its worth as a commentary on media intrusion, and whether or not it can be considered as another exploitative venture in itself, this was a sharply written and well performed show. Michael Edwards as Jackson himself gave a sympathetic performance of a man conflicted between his softly spoken public image and his subversive alter ego, the ‘man in the mirror,’ whilst Hatty Preston (a returning student sure to be seen on the New Theatre stage in the semester to come) showed versatility and comic verve in a myriad of roles. Whether as a male ‘hoodie’ struck down in his prime by swine flu, a falsely exuberant and manic newsreader on Heaven Entertainment News, or giving an unexpected turn as Mariah Carey showcasing powerful vocals and impressive impersonation, her characterization was spot on.
‘Michael Jackson at the Gates of Heaven and Hell’ is not damning in its satire, but it provides an amusing antidote to the nauseating media spectacle surrounding Jackson’s unexpected death.