The phrases “farce” and “World War II play” don’t tend to go hand in hand. However, it’s pretty clear from Willis and Vere‘s posters and flyers that this show is going to be anything but serious. Returning to the Fringe with a handful of awards, the comedy duo open by explaining the premise of A Serious Play – a recreation of Holocaust events based on interviews with Hirshel Gunzberg, an Auschwitz survivor. Even though we shouldn’t be laughing, the over the top dramatic spotlights and faux sincere delivery from Willis and Vere already have the audience stifling giggles within minutes.
With a little intervention from Gunzberg himself, the re-enactment of the young Jewish boy’s life begins, showing melodramatic childhood bullying scenes and the Monty Python-esque arrival of Nazi soldiers at his home. The performers’ slow motion segments and ridiculous use of props are perfectly judged and executed, and things take a mad turn as Hirshel – played by Adam Willis – begins a Justin Bieber-inspired dance number to best convey the struggles of concentration camp prisoners. It’s best not for this review to ruin too many of the surprises from here on in. Knowing too much beforehand would dampen the ensuing chaos and hilarity of this show.
What can be said is that this is a farce like no other. Willis and Vere create several moments that genuinely have the audience question what is planned and what isn’t. Shots are fired, actors are killed off, audience members are implored to phone ambulances and all hell breaks loose. The combination of physical comedy and frenetic, exaggerated delivery from the stars completely absorbs the audience and transfers the show from the rectangular stage into the entire theatre space. We shriek, cackle and gasp as they throw themselves around and the show escalates from one catastrophe to the next, all timed and activated perfectly. By the end of their run, Willis will surely be covered in bumps and bruises from head to toe.
There is an inordinate number of comedy shows to choose from at the Fringe. Nevertheless, Willis and Vere have created a triumph here that is a sure winner for any audience. As a physical performance alone it is an impressive feat, and the gags – visual and otherwise – are outrageous fun. Prepare yourself for complete exhilaration.