The Stage Door, that much-loved little powerhouse of a venue in the centre of Southampton, has a reputation for presenting a diverse and exhilarating selection of entertainment, though I doubt that anything quite as unique as Ay Up, Hitler! may have been seen there in a while. Presented by Gamma Ray Theatre (a company new to me, although I’ll be following their programme very happily in the future), it details, in 65 off-the-wall minutes, one of those “true stories that never was….or were…”, in which Hitler and co, fresh from their defeat in WW2, are now hiding out in Yorkshire, and doing their best to blend in. And yes, it’s as mad as a box of frogs, at times resembling a kind of insane mash-up of Monty Python and Beyond The Fringe. Occasionally as camp as a row of swastika-patterned tents, it’s a rampaging British Variety show, along with a heavy helping of Political Incorrectness and bad language, all of which, I admit unashamedly, are just fine with me. Oh, and Adolf and co, in their attempts to blend in, speak in broad Yorkshire accents. It’s that kind of a show.
There’s no getting away from the fact that there’s some pretty direct, sometimes savage satire here, on more than one occasion eliciting a few sharp intakes of breath from the audience. But Theatre itself doesn’t have to shy away from challenge, and one of the reasons for the satire working so well here, is the absolute fearlessness of David McCulloch’s script, and equally of the cast, all of whom go for it like a collective bull at a gate. McCulloch’s writing is hilarious, inventive and fast-paced (and to my personal chagrin, contains some zinging one-liners that I wished I’d written first, damn him!), with no shortage of comment on political correctness in general, not least with regard to the world (and of course the theatre) today, and it’s a device that works splendidly here. The play becomes even more bonkers when Boris Johnson and Donald Trump turn up, and it’s nobody’s fault if some of the lines are lost amid the audience’s laughter.
The performances here really can’t be faulted. Peter McCrohon’s unexpectedly endearing Adolf brings to mind those much-loved Music Hall and Variety comics who, had Hitler but known, were still a force to be reckoned with after the end of WW2, and for me, this is the funniest depiction of the Fuhrer since Mel Brooks’ glorious lambasting of him in The Producers. Marcus Churchill, every bit as impressive, plays the forever-incorrectly-addressed Goebbels, and also doubles outrageously as his own namesake Winston. Author David M also appears as Goering, as funny as everyone else, and also, evidently, a very unselfish playwright, generously sharing the best of everything equally among the company. It’s what makes a true Ensemble show. Hannah-Cait Harrison joins the romp midway through, delightful as unexpected cast-replacement Maggie, before turning in an hilarious Donald Trump in drag (you have to see it to believe it). Completing the line-up is Michael Goodwin-Grist, making a zinger of a professional debut. A continuously hilarious deadpan comic performer, he also appears as Eva Braun (another sight you have to see to believe!), before returning as a jaw-droppingly un-pc Boris Johnson.
It took the audience a little while to ease into the style of the show, but thereafter they were with it all the way, even joining lustily in with the occasional bursts of audience participation – again, it’s that kind of show! I’ve mentioned the hilariousness, the satire, and the various styles throughout. Perhaps I should also mention that other superb satire, Oh! What A Lovely War. The final moments of the play – I don’t want to give anything away – are brilliant.