Humphrey Ker is
Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher!
First performances: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh,
3 – 29 August 2011.
(Further performances included Soho Theatre, London;
UCB Theatre, Los Angeles; Fortune Theatre, London;
Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh.)
cast list | reviews | photographs | flyer
Written and performed by Humphrey Ker
Direction, design, and dramaturgy by Phillip Breen
Lighting and sound by Neil Hobbs
Produced by Carrie Matthews for Feature Spot Productions
Stage management by Douglas Cox
WINNER OF THE 2011 FOSTER'S EDINBURGH COMEDY AWARD
Gag-a-line funny show spoofing – and obliquely celebrating – Second World War derring-do from a star-in-the-making. Humphrey Ker portrays himself as the square-jawed incarnation of his grandfather, dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi-held Romania to bust a nuclear dam. Anachronisms abound, in the manner of Armstrong and Miller’s WW2 pilots, but this isn’t a quick-fire sketch, it’s a drawn-out pleasure of a playlet. Bound to have a further life.
A matter of laugh and death
Right, listen here. I’ve a damn fine show to tell you about. Feller called Humphrey Ker – old hand at the Fringe, used to be an Improvert or some such, also one of those Penny Dreadful blighters plying their Victoriana over at Assembly George Square. Thing is, he’s doing something new this year – a solo show – and it really is frightfully, frightfully good.
Dymock Watson… is indeed Ker’s first foray into the world of one-man show but he’s honestly not put a foot wrong. As the title suggests, this is a slight update from his normal turn-of-the-century schtick but invested with such a rich vein of authenticity that you’re utterly drawn in for the whole hour.
Story-wise, everything you’d expect is here: the beautiful stranger; the evil Gruppenführer; the cocky alpha-male Captain. So far, so Flashheart but Ker has such a keen eye for genre clichés and skewers them so perfectly that it never gets old.
One particular aside, involving a copper-bound bible, had me in tears, and the way that Ker sprinkles his Boy's Own narrative with wry modern asides keeps the tone varied and interesting. He even manages to weave in a magic trick or two but in a way that never feels like gimmick-for-gimmick’s-sake.
Physically, Ker is perfect to play the eponymous Dymock – a rangy reluctant hero thrust abruptly into the wartime world of derring-do. His slightly manic delivery and gift for characterisation mean this never feels like a one-man show but a showcase of living, breathing characters, each of them an individual. This, combined with moments of genuine pathos amongst the comedy, means you seldom realise that this is just one man, on stage, talking for an hour.
Not that the tale is ever boring. Comedy this may be but Ker has also written a rollicking good romp, packed with murder, midnight chases and dastardly double-crosses. Ker’s done his homework and his descriptions of wartime London and night-flights in battered bombers have the ring of authenticity. No one who’s seen Ker before would ever doubt his skills as a performer but here he proves his chops as an accomplished writer and a talent to watch in future. Jolly good show, old chap, jolly good.
by Dominic Maxwell
Dying is easy, comedy is hard. After two weeks watching shows at the Edinburgh fringe, I know where that saying is coming from. Oh sure, I've caught some brilliant ones – Adam Riches, Nick Helm, Tim Vine, Terry Alderton, the Pajama Men, Russell Kane and Brett Goldstein among others. But see how many talented people there are here; see how few of them can put together an hour that never sags.
That's fine. That's how hard a craft this is. That's the fringe. And perhaps I sometimes worry, that's the jading nature of my seeing five shows a day. But then I see something as good as Humphrey Ker's solo debut, Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher!, and praise be, the old laughing gear is still in perfect working order.
Ker (pronounced 'car') is the tall (6ft 7in) one from the sketch trio The Penny Dreadfuls and the BBC2 impro show Fast and Loose. But nothing I had seen him do before quite prepared me for the density of his invention here, and the way he grounds a hilarious wartime spoof in solid story telling.
It's based on his grandfather, Dymock Watson, a Special Operations Executive operative who was dropped in to enemy territory during the Second World War. Based we'll assume, very loosely. Ker mixes a love of period lingo with a penchant for wilful anachronism that helps him straddle the nostalgic and the modern. "I waited for a cab, for like twenty sodding minutes" says the stiff-upper-lip Watson as he starts his adventure in London in 1943 before getting entangled with a with a femme fatale, a Scottish spy chief, numerous knavish nazis and an SOE hell-raiser Rex Hammer: "Rumour had it that he's sank The Bismarck and banged Vivien Leigh in the same afternoon."
Ker plays them all with relishand kits them out with such a quantity of whipsmart lines you soon start worrying that he's shooting at an easy target. He both invokes and inverts cliches, playing on our knowledge of war film tropes, and somehow tells a twisty story boasting characters with, well, two-and-a-half dimensions anyway. And while he has terrific fun, Ker's affection for his hero helps to ensure this celebratory hour doesn't make a mockery of real bravery or real suffering.
Once or twice the plot eluded me or Ker swallowed his lines. But the scene in which Watson has to pose as a Romanian conjuror captures the nub of what Ker and his director Phillip Breen, have achieved here. It is convenyed with such commitment to story and staging that it underwrites all of its daftness. Which really is pretty magical.
by Alice Jones
This is an enormously likeable and accomplished hour from Humphrey Ker, better known as one third – the tall, posh third – of sketch troupe the Penny Dreadfuls. In his debut solo show, Ker plays to his acting strengths, spinning a bonkers wartime yarn in which he plays a heavily accented array of characters from a Geordie killing machine to a Texan belle and a Romanian conjuror.
The hero of the piece is Dymock Watson, a Naval officer (and, it turns out, Ker's grandfather) who is parachuted into Romania on a secret mission in 1943. A rather ineffectual chap with a water bottle on his hip and a punnet of plums in his mouth, he has six days to save the world but rather inconveniently his allies keep getting killed off. It's rare to come across a character adventure in which the plot grips but with some James Bond thrills, knowing 21st-century touches and a little help from director Phillip Breen, Ker conjures up a vivid narrative landscape and plenty of laughs.
There's some beautiful writing here, glittering lines rapped out as fast as machine-gun fire. If anything, it's a little too fast. You want more time to savour delicious details like the body found "impaled on an MCC umbrella". A class act.
by Anna Millar
Swashbuckling success story
As part of Fringe staple trio and Radio 4 stars The Penny Dreadfuls, Humphrey Ker offered audiences something of a theatrical comedy masterclass. Here, he flies solo in swashbuckling style. It’s 1943 and war’s most unlikely hero, Dymock Watson, has been sent on a top secret mission to blow up a dam in Romania.
Part-action adventure, part-character play, Ker takes you with him from the start, as a swarm of daft and dastardly characters are introduced. Each one is played by Ker to comedy perfection, whether it’s team leader Rex, some camp Nazi soldiers, foxy spy Joanie or Uncle Trevor, the dog. Everyone’s a bit dim and we’re fully in on the joke.
To his credit, Ker is a relentless performer; just when you think the pace is slowing, he throws in such a witty one-liner or dippy aside – lucidly annunciated with those posh-boy pipes – that you’re immediately back in the game, willing him on to take out the Nazis and get the girl. Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! has a smart script and Ker has crafted a character that we may be laughing at, but we still care about. Pip pip and bravo to that, old chap.
by Fiona Sheppard
Comedy trio The Penny Dreadfuls are taking a year out from the Fringe to pursue solo projects ... at the Fringe. They tried to resist, but the pull was too strong. Of the three, Humphrey Ker sticks closest to Dreadfuls' territory with his rip-snorting Second World War adventure, Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher!, in which he plays all the roles – the upstanding Watson himself plus a southern belle femme fatale, a blunt Scottish commander, a sadistic Geordie trainer, a special-ops ladykiller – while dashing off a repertoire of amusing anachronisms, architectural double entendres and mixed board-game metaphors.
Naturally, the story involves a treacherous undercover operation for which our mostly accidental hero is ill-prepared, plus lashings of Nazis and Romanian undercover agents, daring and improbable escapes and shocking (not really) twists. Most crucially for this type of mission, it is properly, consistently funny. And the imaginary canine companion is so cute.
by Steve Bennett
As familiar Edinburgh sketch group The Penny Dreadfuls splits, Spice Girls-like, into a new batch of solo careers, Humphrey Ker makes his debut with a gung-ho, Boys-Own style tale of derring-do apparently inspired by the wartime exploits of his own grandfather.
Not that Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! has a particularly tight grip on reality; this is the fantasy-adventure of the most comic-book type, with our dashing hero of the Special Operations Executive single-handedly destroying a strategic dam, with the aid of a beautiful woman, a remarkably perceptive dog called Uncle Trevor and a cover-story that requires him to pose as a cabaret magician.
It is a ripping yarn, with Ker not only playing the titular Boche-basher but bringing to life the full supporting cast of credible caricatures. It’s all expertly executed, with team leader Rex Hammer being a particular delight, a bawdy, no-nonsense shagger who owes more than a nod to Lord Flashheart.
Although the performance is impressive, the real joy is in the gag-heavy script. Although nothing interrupts the exciting pace of the heroics, Ker deploys language with a rare skill, with writing that really zings. There are all manner of delights here, and all used with restraint – devices such as anachronisms or peculiarly meaningless aphorisms that could easily be running jokes in lesser hands are allowed to make their impact, and leave.
There are perfectly offbeat metaphors – ‘his suitcase was heavy… like an Ibsen play’ – and a litany of similarly fresh-minted turns of phrase that are both evocative and funny. The care that has been lavished on this is obvious, and the results impressive in the frequency and fullness of laughs.
It’s too early to start talking newcomer nominations, but I’d be very surprised if this hugely enjoyable slice of hokum didn’t make the list. There, that’s cursed it…
by Vivienne Egan
Humphrey Ker has struck on the perfect balance for fringe comedy. A little experimental, unapologetically intelligent, unstoppably verbose, (but including a healthy measure of cuss words), the story of Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! is, from start to finish, as impeccable as Ker’s aristocratic profile.
A lovingly tongue-in-cheek celebration of the British spirit that won World War II, Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! accesses the audience’s patriotic instincts, if in a tally-ho, pip-pip sort of way. It is also reminiscent of some of the great traditions of British comedy, mostly through silly accents and sparkling prose: Ker’s turn of phrase is as elegant as Wilde or Wodehouse. Not only this, but there is level of awareness in approaching the story as a modern performer and for a modern audience which Ker exploits for some brilliant self-reflexive comedy.
The story of Dymock Watson is inspired by Ker’s own grandfather (I’m curious to know what percentage of the story is actually true), deployed deep into enemy territory by Intelligence for his knowledge of Romanian. He has a mission, Inglourious Basterds style, to blow up a significant enemy target while a big group of Nazis are inside it. With very little training, he is dropped into the heart of German-occupied Romania to carry out this fool’s errand. We find all the tropes of classic war stories – the beautiful girl left at home, the mole in the ranks, the sinister Nazi, resourceful triumph against the odds.
We meet a host of characters who are an excellent showcase for Ker’s impressive facility with accents (Geordie, Southern Belle, high-camp German, evil German and growly detective all get a look-in). They also make a full and brilliant cast for the story, without falling into the trap of overloading the audience with too many names to keep track of. Ker is a virtuoso as he slips between characters, his physicality complementing the depth and colour of each character’s voice.
The familiarity of the story may be comfortable, but the mode of telling it is exhilaratingly fresh, and Ker’s energy radiates to every corner of the space, his commitment to the performance apparent in every detail. Even when, twice, he ad libs a few lines (to some latecomers, and a man who inexplicably needed to rustle his sweet wrapper), he remains completely in character, and the audience are highly appreciative (especially when the man stops digging around for food).
Humphrey Ker is a commanding presence on a stage. It’s not necessarily his height, or his good looks (but those help). Perhaps it’s his powerful, resonant voice. Whatever the parts, the sum is charisma, and bucketloads of it, and for the hour of the show we are completely in the thrall of his storytelling. I could not think of a more exemplary form for a one-person fringe comedy show.
by Joseph Fleming
The Penny Dreadfuls’ Humphrey Ker must be having the most fun on the Fringe this year. His breathtakingly inventive and tremendously quotable one-man spy fiction spoof was a rollicking, cinematic masterpiece, which would thoroughly deserve the coveted Best Newcomer trophy at the end of August. Bursting with dozens of hilarious similes, wonderfully jingoistic linguistic flourishes, and ingenious wartime jokes that only a former History undergraduate could have written, this was a multi-layered spectacle that I would have paid to watch several evenings in succession. Not only because it was almost sinfully entertaining, but also because the packed audience’s ecstatic laughter, which arrived every fifteen seconds without failure, must have drowned out countless sophisticated subtleties in the performance. Verdict – five swastikas.
WHAT'S ON STAGE
by David Kettle
This one-man show is something of a minor masterpiece, combining a carefully crafted script, an exceptional performance and, most importantly, real affection for its subject matter.
Humphrey Ker – one third of the Penny Dreadfuls, here making his Fringe solo debut – recounts the story of one Dymock Watson, reluctantly drafted into World War II naval intelligence to smash a Nazi plot to construct the first atomic bomb. The fact that the character is loosely based on Ker's grandfather only adds to the poignancy: yes, it's a comedy show, and the laughs come thick and fast, but there's a great respect for the older man's bravery that moves the show past sarcastic parody into something far subtler and more celebratory.
Ker summons a huge array of eccentric characters for his endlessly inventive show, and he brings them all to vivid life with deft and effortless characterisation. There's a seductive New Orleans vamp, an aggressive Geordie sergeant and, most memorably, a Nazi stand-up comic with truly appalling material.
Ker's script is densely packed with jokes and delivered with engaging energy. He casts knowing glances at the audience, comments on his own material, and there's even superb physical comedy. It's a slick and stylish show that also manages to be generous and warm-hearted.
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
by Seth Ewin
A war saga of epic proportions bursting with a cast of larger than life characters and some OK bathos. Not since Evelyn Waugh's The Sword Of Honour has the Second World War seemed so ludicrous.
Verbally dexterous Kerr does not waste his words; the show is bursting with similes like Santa's sack, many delightful offerings and the camouflaged comedian purposefully overworks and toys with the metaphors. In Dymock Watson's amazing adventures the jokes come thick and fast and audience is given little time to breathe.
A blazing Boys-Own-style narrative keeps you on the edge of your seat, with Kerr jumping across characters and countries at spitfire speed. Kerr rations his movements around the stage, but has the physicality to convey the action-packedness of a really good James Bond film.
I salute you Dymock Watson, you showed those Nazis.
by Si Hawkins
While Marvel Studios spent umpteen millions giving Captain America the full Hollywood makeover, Humphrey Ker was putting together a very British kind of war hero, loosely based on his own grandfather, armed with just a set of old paratrooper fatigues, a lamp and some magic tricks. The special effects may not be as good but the 3D is excellent, given that Ker turns up and does it in person.
A sketch veteran with the Penny Dreadfuls, Ker’s solo show is a captivating hour of character-based tomfoolery, told via the plummy tones of Watson, a slightly geeky chap who meets a beautiful woman, is drafted into a secret unit and ends up single-handedly taking on a major Nazi compound – exactly the same plot as Captain America, in fact. This one is a lot more satisfying.
Ker’s show is brilliantly silly throughout–and beautifully played. The sheer quantity and quality of gags is impressive—a hit-rate right up there with early Luftwaffe—and Ker introduces a whole platoon of hammy personnel. Particularly splendid is the psychotic combat instructor whose raison d’etre is turning out that one sadistic soldier all movie armies seem to end up with. It’s bayonet-in-the-abdomen funny.
The dialogue zings with ludicrous similes and judicious swearing, and while there are hints of Armstrong and Miller’s street-talking pilots when he juxtaposes the stiff upper lip with modern slang, it’s a minor gripe. Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher is an almost-perfect hour of character comedy. There’s even a gag about comedy reviewers, involving swastikas – bet he enjoyed writing that one.
Humphrey Ker. Photo © Pete Le May
Humphrey Ker. Photo © Pete Le May
Humphrey Ker. Photo © Pete Le May
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