Gamma Ray Theatre offer up an early pantomime of sorts in Ay Up Hitler! at the newly reopened Bridge House Theatre in Penge
“Maybe we are just a bunch of evil f*ckers”
Gamma Ray Theatre’s Ay Up Hitler! plays at a newly reopened Bridge House Theatre under new artistic directorship and with its broad, pantomimish humour, fits neatly with the enduring cultural fascination with all things Third Reich in this country. As they fully admit at the beginning of the show, it might be best enjoyed after a few pints.
It imagines a post-WWII scenario where Goebbels, Göring, Himmler and Hitler escaped Berlin and lived in hiding in the only possible place…Yorkshire (as opposed to, you know, South America…). And we follow their shenanigans as they adjust to isolated life on t’moors, British drinking habits, and the surprise return of a certain Eva.
David McCulloch’s script takes this concept and leads a merry dance with it, frequently toying with its absurdity as the quartet look to attempt a revival of their career and find it somewhat more difficult than they anticipated. But for all the bad-taste jokes and attempts at audience participation, there’s a slight sense of confusion about what it is the play is actually trying to do.
About three-quarters of the way through, a twist towards the meta looks as if it might do just that, a major disruption that poses some tough questions, questioning the rationale behind the very show and resulting in hard consequences. It’s a welcome intervention that at least formally acknowledges these issues and one help but wish it went further in this vein.
Instead, there’s a move to contextualise the rise of far right narratives in mainstream politics, via the opportunistic Tweedledum and Tweedledee (aka Trump and Johnson) of our times. They are amusingly portrayed, especially in Blo-Jo’s bumbling speech patterns but it loses the easy rhythm from earlier scenes, a marked shift to a different kind of storytelling, adding to the overall confused tone.
It is however gamely performed by an enthusiastic company, Marcus Churchill in particular able to generate a fair measure of goodwill from the audience. Chris Hawley’s direction could usefully remember that the theatre is in thrust though, I spent far too long looking at the backs of people’s heads and that’s not ideal, Nazis or otherwise.