Gamma Ray Theatre, a company based in Hampshire, have focused on the Fuhrer and the flat caps of Yorkshire for their comic play (with a message), Ay Up, Hitler!
Placing Hitler, Goebbels, Göring and Himmler in thick Northern accents and placed in what feels like a working man’s club setting in the 1970s, feels like a risky proposition.
Mixing panto traditions with political manipulation of the media, Ay Up, Hitler! (directed by Chris Hawley) juggles jokes about the Final Solution with a potent warning about contemporary fascist attitudes hiding behind buffoons in power.
Politically correct it ain’t. Nor is there much subtlety in its first half, as it plays with stereotypes pulled straight from TV tropes of fifty years ago. Laughing at gays, women, and those of other faiths and races was par for the course.
A midpoint moment of ‘crisis’ doesn’t quite come off, but it leads to the message of the piece which warns against fascism delivered with a smile and a conspiratorial nod. Trump (played by Hannah-Cait Harrison who has the expression and voice off pat) and Johnson are presented as the danger behind the laughter.
Controlling and manipulating the media is something which is worth highlighting: however, I was unclear why the ageing Fuhrer would choose Yorkshire as his new home base.
Having said all this, there are some excellent comic performances here – Michael Goodwin-Grist stands out as the idiot figure who cringes in the background but is given the most offensive attitudes and lines, fawning over his master like a puppy.
Writer David McCulloch plays Göring (‘the sexy one’) with a nervous panache, while Marcus Churchill is a Goebbels who deals with constant mangling of his name with the skill of a consummate straight man. Churchill also appears, fittingly, as Winston Churchill, a picture of vanity who brushes off his own atrocities.
Peter McCrohon plays the chatty, rotund Hitler. Whether venturing into the audience to tease unsuspecting women, bristling about his ‘one ball’, or sharing his plans for the Fourth Reich in true holiday camp style, he is repellent and compelling.
He (as well as Eva Braun) are involved in lip-synched musical numbers, which again underlines the mantra “don’t believe what you hear”. Elsewhere quick musical cues bring The Producers, Dad’s Army, and even a perennially popular dance number to the fore.
There’s a cracker of an ending, too, which gets the message of this piece across.
Ay Up, Hitler! played at the Museum of Comedy on 1-2 April, and continues on tour with a finale at the Brighton Fringe: details here.
Images supplied by Gamma Ray Theatre