Ha Ha Hitler!

Ben Langley
Jamie Wilson Productions
Warehouse Theatre Croydon and touring
(2009)

Production photo

There have already been Ha Ha Hamlet (after Shakespeare - a long way after) and Ha Ha Homicide (after Christie). Now it's Ha Ha Hitler! -an entire original that doesn't parody anything though punters are told that if they liked The Great Escape they'll love this. Certainly it is a wonderfully piece of silliness that is delivered with huge energy by a cast that knows just how to get an audience on its side.

In 1942, in a very special POW camp in a France called Chateau Plonke, three RAF chaps who've been recaptured after 117 escapes are being particularly carefully guarded under the watchful eye of top German General von Schnitzershitz. They are Flight Lieutenant Hilary Luton (Andrew Fettes), Squadron Leader (though his uniform makes him a Corporal!) Tommy Bristol (Ben Langley who is also writer and director) and ex window-dresser Flying Officer Dick Ashton (Paul Taylor, who also plays Schnitershitz and is the fastest of quick change artistes!) who definitely bats for the other side - and I don't mean the Germans. The boys are aided and abetted by Lizzie Frances as Sophie Ce Soir, the only unexecuted survivor of the chateau's original owners.

Langley greets the audience as they come in - latecomers get special attention - plays the ukulele and juggles, scene changes are played for applause, there are carols in the snow, a cabaret for the Luftwaffe and a special guest called Adolf, a shadow show Nazi torture, drag, chorus lines and lots of terrible jokes. .The audience are warned early on that 'If you want to get into it and enjoy yourselves - lower your standards!'

Well, it certainly isn't stylishly sophisticated but these are a talented and very hard working team and you'll find yourself laughing at their craziness despite yourself. I mean have you ever seen anyone blow up a rubber glove until it explodes with their nose? At times Langley made me think of Snozzle Durante but they all are equally looney. It is the German General who gets to do the striptease. The whole show feels like the speciality slapstick scene in a panto extended to two full acts and given a plot.

There is plenty of deliberately coarse acting - and sometimes coarse humour: toothy grinned Sophie wants to feel 'Appenis inside her' for instance - however, these are pros with spot-on timing who know exactly how to handle an audience, but they might watch that the recorded backing track doesn't swamp their some of their vocals - though I was sitting right under a speaker. This isn't the ego-centric solo stuff that so often carries the comedy label today. This is real fun. Go on: lower your standards and enjoy.

At Croydon until 11th October, then one-night stands at Blackfriars Theatre; Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham; Pavilion Theatre, Worthing; The Lights, Andover; Dunstable Grove Theatre; Hull New Theatre; Newark Palace Theatre; Banbury Mill Theatre; Solihull Arts Complex; Bognor Alexandra; Camberley Theatre; Sedbergh People's Hall, Cumbria; Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge; Bedford Corn Exchange; Preston Charter Theatre; Lichfield Garrick; Kings Lynn Corn Exchange; Southsea Kings Theatre; Redhill Harlequin Theatre; Horsham Capital Theatre; Castle Hall Hertford and Margate Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Howard Loxton