“Shh! Shh!” says a smartly dressed Kieran Hodgson to the room as he emerges prissily from the back, fiddle in hand, and proceeds to grind through a heroically and deliberately scratchy rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy while shuffling up the aisle on to the stage.
It’s an ideal start to a one-man creation that, it turns out, is many things. A wide-eyed billet doux to classical music, as well as a skewering of the pretensions and conventions that surround it? Certainly. But above all, it’s a chronicle of Hodgson’s romantic history, spanning 17-odd years, taking us from his childhood in Yorkshire, on to university and then across the Channel, told largely via the prism of his attempts to write a four-movement symphony. Hodgson plays all the dramatis personae, from music-teachers to sweethearts (of both sexes) and his beloved Mahler, and not only that: he even repeatedly returns to the violin, too.
If you think this sounds like a set of almost foolhardy ambition and creativity, you’re quite right – but Hodgson is up to the self-imposed task. Deservedly nominated last year for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award for his super tribute to disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong (at the same Free Fringe venue, albeit a different room), the 28-year-old here tells an even more complex narrative, darting between characters with a squirrel-like ease and precision, and always letting us know exactly where we are in the story.
Best of all, however, Maestro is also wonderfully – indeed, symphonically – funny. As both a writer and performer, Hodgson has a remarkable eye for comic minutiae, a rare talent for impishly surprising little payoffs: no opportunity for a laugh is missed, while his very musical ear for accents also serves him impeccably throughout.
Hodgson’s opening recreation of his nerdily self-righteous 11-year-old self is superb, as are his various Mahlers, to whom, with a wild sprig of dada, he gives voices and personas ranging from Morrissey to (Hodgson lookalike) David Tennant – but in honesty there isn’t a single character that doesn’t fly.
He also finds time for a super – if very oddly sung – little Summer Loving-based set-piece, while one little Classic FM-directed barb may make you want to punch the air in agreement (an unctuous “ ... some of the finest, smoothest music from some of the world’s eight greatest composers ...”). Meanwhile, his astutely protracted account of his attempt to seduce one boyfriend with Schoenbergian Sprechgesang, possibly the least seductive form of communication ever created, is a case of vaut le détour all on its own.
Maestro, then, is a whip-smart, intensely personal paean to following one’s heart that’s by turns confessional, satirical, surreal and even stirring, one in which the next big laugh is never more than a semiquaver away. A week or so into the Fringe, Hodgson – an undoubted star-in-the-making – is looking like the fellow to beat.
Until August 29. Tickets: edfringe.com