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[Performance Analysis:] AY UP, HITLER, Museum of Comedy, London.

This is a clever playtext, self-aware and cunning, instrumentalising its satirical and risqué comedy to facilitate its sociopolitical objectives. There are, however, notable areas both in the text itself and in performance that need considerable work. I shall start with these areas.

First, pacing. Timing is crucial to comedy, and this performance suffers quite significantly from dragging momentum. This is particularly the case for scene transitions, each of which provides too great an interval between actions. Scenes ought to move one after the other in rapid succession; as soon as two performers exit, the next two should enter without delay. This note is very important. Furthermore, there is a sporadic tendency amongst the actors to pause briefly after delivering their jokes, to hold for laughter. This should be avoided. Whilst allocated laughter space is good practice, this must not be scripted or rehearsed but rather felt by the actors at the time of the performance, studiously aware of their audience and whichever relationship they have established with them. However,I should note here that when actually delivering their lines, these actors do perform with the correct speed and intonation.

There are a few inconsistencies in this performance, like the purportedly ‘out-of-character’ Hannah-Cait Harrison (playing Maggie and Donald Trump) chastising us for ‘aww-ing’ Hitler (Peter McCrohon) but continuing herself to play characters, especially Trump, who commend Hitler and his strategies. However, most significantly and most unignorably, the overall ‘plot’ to which we are introduced at the beginning of this performance, seeing Hitler and his ‘Nazi chums’ starting their new life in England, having escaped their deaths with Joseph Goebbels's (Marcus Churchill) cunning propaganda stunt, is completely forgotten by the halfway point. The performance seems to function upon an entirely different basis as more and more characters are introduced to us, starting with Michael Goodwin-Grist’s appearance as Eva Braun, and we lose this initial plot altogether. In its place? A mere parodic series of various historical figures.

There is nothing 'wrong' with having this series alone, without too 'traditional' a plot. A simple 'Hitler and Friends' might have been a better context for this performance, rather than a missing shot at needless linear narrative. However, if there is to be such a chronological plot, this must aim to contextualise and ground the narrative and rhetoric of this performance. The plot should not serve as a mere, elaborate, means of introducing us to Hitler and the other characters, and nothing more; it should fundamentally complement our reading, not simply embellish it. However, despite these aspects, the issue of the faltering plot being a significant fundamental flaw, this performance retains its humour and direction. Its characters, if not its plot, are coherent and established well by the text.

This leads me to another problem: this enclosed plot-based narrative, which sees the characters living in a world from which the audience is removed, is in direct conflict with recurrent metatheatrical techniques. This allows for confusion amongst the audience as to their function as either onlookers or participants. Whilst I understand the necessity of keeping the audience at a critical distance, they must be reassured as to whether their participation will be purely intellectual, removed from the work and analysing it to themselves, or whether they will have a more active and action-based role. I imagine that the more direct and invasive audience interactions, most notably: McCrohon standing amongst and even sitting directly beside audience members and watching the performance with us, were intended to intensify this critical thinking, to make the audience feel as though part of the action, watching it through Hitler's eyes. The effect is something very different, however.

Such invasive interactions and quasi-physical interactions, such as flirting with audience members or brushing past them, standing over or behind them, do nothing but awaken an audience’s defensive temporospatial awareness and actually removes them from the performance altogether. It forces them to be aware of their own bodies and selves and those of the Others surrounding them, the mechanics of theatre and performance itself, and the topography and architecture of the space; they become to some degree disengaged and too self-conscious to benefit from the performance in any profound way that would benefit their critical reading. Audience interactions and, to some degree, participation should be better considered: invoking joy, forcing the audience to ‘aww’ and, paradoxically, to empathise with Hitler, and causing them to laugh are altogether different notions to brushing shoulders with them, outwardly flirting and moving through and around them. The former examples are more insidious and have greater psychological effects. Currently, the role of the audience is undefined and undernourished, and this is a problem that echoes the lack of plot and coherency in the text.

On to the acting itself. These are energised and confident performers, aware of the material and its boundaries. Each performs with a knowing self-mockery, paying attention to tonal delivery and overall expressiveness. However, there is an intense subtractive disparity amongst acting styles. This is most notable when we compare Goodwin-Grist's exaggerative and overly expressive caricatural style that he applies to all of his characters throughout against David McCulloch’s (playing Hermann Göring) more relaxed and later more realistic style, or even Churchill’s presentational, calmer style as Goebbels against his own exaggerative and hyperexpressive style as Winston Churchill, for instance. For this performance, I would recommend, and urge, this former acting style uniquely. I shall elaborate on my reasons for this further below.

Though slightly more variation is needed from Goodwin-Grist, he notably stands out due to this stylistic disparity, and the energy that he funnels into and the distinctive characteristics that he attaches to his characters merely intensify his separation from the performers with whom he shares the stage — until the middle of the performance, at least. I would urge that the rest of the cast study how he embodies his various characters: their postures, traits, locked facial expressions, etc., but also that they and he go even beyond these, for maximum and much-needed comedic effect. He is by no means exemplary of the extremity that this performance really needs but is a gleaming starting reference point.

Style is a huge issue for this performance, and this is notably due to the manner in which comedy is instrumentalised. Ultimately, this is a performance that utilises comedic techniques to illustrate how powerful and successful yet corrupt political leaders pass through the public eye with one-liners, dance moves, outlandish idiosyncrasies and laughable backstories, their beliefs founded terrifyingly upon a lust for domination and negative systemic change. In order to be successful, this performance must cleverly balance its seriousness with its ludicrousness, and this is something that McCulloch, also the writer and director of this text, clearly knows well, making efforts to include asides and segments that justify the play’s self-reportedly ‘questionable’ use of such an abominable historical character. The performance must demonstrate that it is not taking the figure of Hitler with too much personal interest, glorifying his acts, unashamedly and celebratorily bringing him back to life. There must, then, be a degree of seriousness and care. However, this performance also depends on comedy for communicating and establishing its sociopolitical objectives, and for performances like this, comedy relies upon a ludicrousness and an obscenity that is equally credible, engaging, exaggerative.

The serious-ridiculous balance must hence be extremely well managed, and it seems as though this needed sense of carefulness has restricted the creatives in some way. I compare, for example, McCrohon’s Hitler flirting with audience members to his grotesque and violent, and actually rather impressive, representation of Hitler’s lecturing. The first is simply understated, comical but not too over-the-top as it simply must be; the second is extreme, intense and shocking. This is an example of the comedy-seriousness disequilibrium to which I refer. The comedy in this performance feels uninvigorated to some degree and is limited as to how far it is willing to go, despite the offensive one-liners McCulloch has thrown in. Characters are too understated, and the performance suffers from a lack of direction and context. Far more extremity and conviction are thus needed.

I would urge that the creatives rest assured that the comedy will not offend for a few facts to re-consider: an audience who deliberately purchases tickets for a comedy about Hitler is not a type likely to be offended by jokes about and caricatures of Hitler; these aforementioned self-conscious passages and segments remind the audience that this is all deliberate and calculated, not a mere glorification or commendation of the Nazi regime; and, finally, the work is founded not merely upon ignorant hilarity but upon significant, poignant and resonant political beliefs, and this will inevitably come through, whatever the actors do, so long as they internalise and remember throughout this fundament as the guiding voice of this performance. These items alone justify this work and defuse arguments about its impropriety. With this noted, I stress: more extremity and daring are required for this performance.

The facts I list above should not be overlooked; they are the artistic licence for a performance like this. However, I feel they have been forgotten to a considerable degree. The seriousness of the underlying political agenda should not outweigh the comedy we receive but should match it. Not only this, but the characters should share an intensity and aesthetic, not only for consistency and coherency in character and style but also so that the ‘mood’ and nature of the performance may be truly perceptible. The performance must be a shamefully enjoyable guilty pleasure of sorts, and this is actually touched upon and understood by McCulloch who writes his Hitler as playfully teasing the audience with a line approximating ‘You know you secretly like this! Doncha?!’ However, this is the only reference to our guilty pleasure, and this needs to be expanded upon. In order for the sociopolitical messages of this play to really ‘hit home’, to be seen as a strong, reflective and resonant warning, it is necessary to invoke a sense of guilt, of shame, of self-repulsion. The creatives will find that if they invigorate the performance with further extreme caricatures, the ‘messages’ of the play will be far intenser, more readable and more effectual. The aim must be to encourage the audience to be engaged in and even enjoy and celebrate the underhand sexism, racism, homophobia and Naziism, sold invitingly as mere inconsequential satire at first and, later, revealed to have a far deeper psychological significance.

Still on this serious-comedic topic, I must state that this comedy must also retain a sense of seriousness itself. Comedians must not treat their material as funny, as something that will inevitably make the audience laugh; they must treat it as something they truly believe in and truly live, convinced of the reality of their onstage circumstances themselves, however absurd. I write this statement in order to contextualise the following: certain actors have a tendency to break character to laugh at one another or, as most perceptible with McCrohon, to smile on at the action transpiring around them on stage, chuckling away to themselves silently as though overjoyed to be part of something so magical as theatre. Any enjoyment of one’s own performance should be internal and should not leak its way into the performance, especially as much as to replace it as is the case here.

Despite my more critical comments, this is certainly a commendable and engaging performance. It is, in essence, daring and unique. Once the caricatures of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have entered the stage — flawlessly represented by Goodwin-Grist [Boris] and Harrison [Donald], despite the need for more vocal variation between their respective characters — the energy, nature and vitality of this performance are crystal clear. Ludicrous comedy finally achieves its title as a vehicle for invaluable audience exploitation and the communication of sociopolitical objectives and themes. The entire performance needs to meet this comedic extremity. The ending is particularly poignant and well-executed, with sound design by Hannah Wood being equally impressive and most facilitative here. A good, enjoyable and fundamentally challenging performance.

“A unique performance whose daring and informative rhetoric is compromised by certain disparities.”


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