Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A flawless performance from the tallest third of the Penny Dreadfuls sketch comedy group, as one man takes on a mass of Nazis in the depths of wartime Romania.
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.