Ay Up, Hitler! a new satire from Fareham's Gamma Ray Theatre imagining the Nazis escaped to Yorkshire is at The Wedgewood Rooms

Imagine that everything you thought you knew about Hitler’s demise at the end of the Second World War was wrong.

Saturday, 30th April 2022, 5:00 am

Ay Up, Hitler! is the untold ‘true’ story of what really happened: after losing to the Allies, Hitler and his cronies go into hiding in the last place anyone would think to look – Yorkshire.

Donning flat caps, dressing head-to-toe in tweed, and adopting strong northern accents, Adolf and the lads meet down the pub to plan their comeback over pints of lukewarm lager.

The satirical comedy is the creation of David McCulloch, of Fareham-based company Gamma Ray Theatre.

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Ay Up, Hitler! is the first production from the company set up by its writer David McCulloch and his partner Hannah-Cait Harrison to champion new writing.

The idea came about back in 2017 when David was rehearsing for another show with Blackbox Theatre Company.

‘We were doing the John Godber play Bouncers, looking at northern nightlife in the ’80s. For some reason during a break in rehearsals the conversation veered towards Hitler – I don't know why, but someone brought him up...

‘Somebody mentioned it was rumoured Hitler had visited the north of England, or wanted to visit the north of England and I said: “Oh, which part?” They said: “Liverpool”, and I said: “Oh, that's a shame, because if it was Yorkshire, everyone would be greeting him by going: "Ay up, Hitler.”

Ay Up, Hitler! by Gamma Ray Theatre is at The Wedgewood Rooms on May 8, 2022

‘And I thought, ooh, that's a good idea for a play and worked backwards from there.’

Bouncers’ director Chris Hawley loved the idea and encouraged David to write it down, but as David explains: ‘After we finished Bouncers, imposter syndrome took over, and I thought: “I can't write a comedy, let alone a comedy about Hitler”, and put it aside as a funny thing we came up with in rehearsals.

‘But nobody told Chris that, so for the next year he was telling everyone that he knew a playwright writing a play called Ay Up, Hitler! Then in Christmas 2018 this message got back to me when Hannah saw Chris at a party.

‘That’s when I thought I'd better write this thing if everyone thinks that I am already!’

Covid intervened, but the play eventually made its debut last September with a sold out run in Bristol, and is now on a short tour around the south.

Before it’s opening night, the performers were acutely aware that they were dealing with highly controversial subject matter., and how the play would be received.

‘Our director Chris said he's never seen a group of actors more nervous before a show than the opening night of Ay Up, Hitler!

‘Actors always get nervous before opening night, but we had no idea how this was going to go at all.

‘But despite the fact we had no connection to Bristol at all we ended up selling out all three nights, which was insane.’

With the potentially tricky topic of the play, what kind of reception have they had when taking it to venues?

‘When trying to find theatres to put us on, it is quite tricky to go for the more, shall we say, traditional venues.

‘A music venue like The Wedgewood Rooms seemed perfect to us – there's quite an anarchic feeling to this play in its style and tone, so it seemed to be a good match.

‘The best way for me to gauge whether a play will do well at a certain venue, is talking to the heads of the venue, and when they ask: “What's this play about?” I say: “I'll tell you the title, and your reaction will tell me if it's going to work here”.

‘Sometimes you get people reacting by going,’ he adopts a cautious tone, ‘”Oh, ok”.

‘And others you get going,’ he takes a rising inflection, ‘”Ooh, ok”, it's that latter one where you go: “Right, we're going to do well here!”

Playing the part of Hitler is Peter McCrohon, who many probably last saw on the stage in a rather different role as King Eric in The Kings Theatre’s Jack and The Beanstalk.

‘Yes, we’ve got Portsmouth panto's own Peter McCrohon as Hitler,’ chuckles David.

‘When you see Peter on stage as Hitler – the moustache is real, he grows the moustache specially for this.

‘That's commitment - and he's very grateful you can still go out wearing facemasks.

‘When we were in Bristol, we were in a pub and we got talking to the barman who asked what we were doing in town. We told him it was a play called Ay Up, Hitler!, and quickly looked at Peter and said: “That's why he's got the 'tache! He's not a terrible person, honest!”’

The play has so far only played in the south, ‘mainly because it's easier and we operate on a shoestring budget’, but they have ambitions to take it north.

‘The plan is and always has been to go up and do the Edinburgh Fringe, probably in 2023. Had Covid not happened we might already have done that by now.

‘We would absolutely love to take it to Yorkshire and see how the people of Yorkshire take it.’

But as a bunch of southerners, how are their Yorkshire accents?

‘It's fine because we're playing Nazis putting on the accent, so if the accent's a bit ropey it's because we're southerners playing Germans playing northerners – it's all authentic.

‘There's layers to our performances!’

Ay up, Hitler! is at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on Sunday, May 8. For tickets go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.