A Serious Play About World War Ii

Thu 9th – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Miles Jackson

at 00:28 on 20th Aug 2018

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"By the way, don't fucking go and write online after the show about how it 'wasn't what you thought it was going to be'", rasps George Vere as he claws apart a piece of stage lighting. The words unfortunately rang true as – despite a hugely promising opening – it soon became apparent that comedy duo Willis & Vere's sophomore Fringe piece 'A Serious Play About World War II' was not quite the sharply satirical piece I thought it was going to be.

Initially disguised as a hilariously misjudged 'serious show' about the Holocaust in the vein of Springtime for Hitler, an early twist upends the show as metafictional farce takes root.

The show's opening scene is hilariously ironic, Willis & Vere gleefully butchering the veneer of self-seriousness prevalent in so many performances at the Fringe. The pair claim that everything in the show is ripped verbatim from a fictional Holocaust survivor named Hirschel Günzberg, an absurdly over-the-top geriatric Jewish stereotype who proceeds to take to the stage and produce a gun and cyanide pills in one of the show's funnier moments.

Immediately, the audience is set for a razor-tongued comedy of manners lacerating the brash egos of Fringe comics. What follows is instead an amusing though fairly conventional farce with some clever meta-humour inserted for comic effect. It’s not a bad show by any means, yet you can’t help but feel like it a missed an opportunity.

Indeed, without giving too much away, the show quickly abandons any of the sharp political notions that fill the first scene and gives way to a stock murder plot. Those familiar with Noises Off or the works of Joe Orton won’t experience anything particularly unexpected here, with hidden corpses, clueless police officers and jokes about theatre executed to decent comic effect in spite of their unoriginality. The show is helped by a game cast, Adam Willis ably playing the terrified accomplice to Vere’s coldhearted mastermind. At times however, the two descend into shouting matches that feel a tad one-note.

There are certainly worse ways to fill an hour than with ‘A Serious Play About World War II’. Vere & Willis are a gifted pair, expertly executing timeworn tropes of the farce genre. Yet the show can’t help but feel somewhat beneath the incredible wit they display in their superbly satirical opening. As it stands, the show produces laughs but does little more.

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Thomas Pymer

at 22:42 on 20th Aug 2018

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It is not often that I sit down to write a review lost for words, but right now that is exactly how I feel. 'A Serious Play About World War II' has inspired pretty much every emotion from disgust to confusion to hilarity.

It is very much the kind of play that shouldn’t be funny, but actually is. It would be difficult to find a higher body count on the stage than if one went to see a performance of Macbeth on the same night as Burke and Hare, and a lot of the time the dark comedy this created was distinctly uncomfortable. The first half of the play was, I regret to say, distinctly unfunny. It may be my personal feeling, but I do find it incredibly difficult to laugh at jokes which involve the Holocaust, domestic violence or stereotyping, which unfortunately was what it relied upon. One could make the case that this was intended as ironic comedy, but the simple fact is that I did not laugh.

However, the play redeemed itself in the second half, at the point where the advertised play began to break down and the absurdist side began to emerge. There was the occasional old joke involving glue and some of the parts of the performance itself did get a little old as the same sort of gags were repeated. Yet the second half was funny and mad; it was impossible to tell what would happen next, or in the cases when it was, then it just made it even funnier. The story developed in a way that was impossible to predict and got funnier and sillier with every turn.

The real highlight I picked out of the performance was the sheer acting talent. Every actor should be highly commended on their character creation and ability – psychopathic and insane though this sometimes was, it was effective. And when the jokes were funny, they were made even more funny by the over-the-top acting. The deadpan with which they recited the most absurd of lines, arrested each other whilst half-naked and imitated Scottish accents was nothing short of exceptional.

I find it difficult to say exactly what made the play funny or outstanding. It is impossible to identify any one part of it that was funny in isolation, part of the play depended upon the fact that every crazy event happened in the context of every other crazy event. It was memorable and unpredictable, with a hysterical craziness that defined it.

In all, my feelings on 'A Serious Play About World War II' are truly all over the place. I feel that it should have been too dark to be funny, yet there was something genuinely outstanding about it. All I can really think is that it is a performance which everyone will react to differently, but will come away with a feeling that they have just seen a play that was crazier than anything they thought they’d see.

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