Soho Theatre, 9 February 2011
Nazi plots, Romanian stage magicians and an imaginary, talking dog. What’s not to like?
All Humphrey Kerr needs is a bare stage, a box and a magical spinning swastika to spin a yarn almost as tall as himself. The eponymous Dymock Watson (based on Kerr’s own maternal grandfather’s experiences during World War II) finds himself the only surviving Romanian speaker after an outbreak of dubious deaths. When the last, Watson’s Cambridge mentor, is found “impaled on an MCC umbrella”, Watson swears revenge. Recruited into Special Ops, he is trained by a sadistic Geordie and placed under the command of Rex Hammer, “a man so cool he sank the Lusitania and banged Rita Hayworth, all in one afternoon”. And that’s just the first quarter of an hour. After that, there is still an espionage plot on a Romanian dam with a European Revolutionary cell, an undercover operation as a world-renowned cabaret magician and a rather suspect, if useful, tattoo.
With a little bit of help from director Phillip Breen, Kerr gives a deft, breathless performance, deservedly picking up the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best New Comer 2011. He plays every character that populates his Boy’s Own-style spoof, with an eye for absurd comic detail; an evil Nazi is portrayed with a squint and a flick of the head, the femme fatale with a twitch of the trouser leg. Yet his obvious affection for his material prevents any danger of losing the rather good-natured heart at the centre of this production. He even manages to convince the audience that Uncle Trevor, an imaginary talking dog, is sufficiently adorable to draw sympathetic “awww” from the audience.
The script sparkles almost as much as Humphrey Kerr’s performance. Though the story is almost certainly of the shaggy dog breed, Kerr’s relish of wordplay and astute anachronistic asides, bemoaning the inability of “posh” people to stand up to London cabbies or celebrating “those really pointy breasts we all seem to be really into back here in the 1940s”, give immaculately timed relief to an otherwise indefatigable romp.
This dapper show, with sharp-as-a-pin dialogue, is an immeasurably cheerful way to spend an evening. I would happily let Dymock Watson blast me off my feet any night of the week.