This might be redundant to say, but Ay Up, Hitler! is not for the easily offended. This is a brash, silly and controversial show that is a little smarter than it initially lets on.
Contrary to popular belief, Adolf Hitler did not die in a bunker in 1945. The Fuhrer and his inner circle of Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering have secretly moved of all places to Yorkshire, where they live undercover, speaking English in northern accents. From there they make plants to start a new Fourth Reich.
There is no semblance of realism – the show is performed in front of a black background, with occasional props, and the characters all talk to the audience and encourage them to cheer and ‘aww’ at the right moments. It’s sort of like a pantomime, if all of the jokes in the pantomime were racist, sexist and homophobic. It’s never satisfyingly explained how the four characters are still alive in the present day, but then again it doesn’t really matter.
Without giving too much away, there is a twist in the show that breaks the fourth wall and forces the audience to consider whether or not there is anything problematic about the show itself, and whether freedom of speech is more important than protecting the feelings of others.
This is a very salient and relevant point, and there is a chance to provoke an interesting discussion, however the show misses this opportunity a little by not providing its own point of view. We are left wondering whether we are in fact watching a morally bankrupt show, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The humour is very broad; I hesitate to repeat any of the jokes but a lot of them are the kind of jokes you’d hear at a Roy “Chubby” Brown show or on your Grandad’s Facebook page. I did laugh quite a few times, but hearing the way some of the other audience members laughed reminded me of the story about Dave Chapelle hearing the way one white guy laugh really loudly at a racially charged sketch of his, which eventually led to him quitting his sketch show.
I’m not saying there isn’t a way to tell jokes about the Holocaust or misogyny, and I don’t have an answer to how this can be done, but I don’t think this show does either. If you like offensive comedy you will probably get something out of Ay Up, Hitler!, but Mel Brooks or Charlie Chaplin this isn’t.