Monday, January 18, 2016

'Big Brother Blitzkrieg' at the King's Head Theatre, 15th January 2016

Was Hitler really all that bad? The answer, of course, is yes. He wasn't just bad either, Hitler was a nightmare of a human being in ways so vast they're difficult to comprehend. That said, when compared to your average reality TV contestant...

Big Brother Blitzkrieg asks a simple, high concept, question: what if Adolf Hitler woke up inside the Big Brother house? So we get a 'pre-fame' struggling artist Hitler (Stephen Chance) attempting suicide, and subsequently finding himself in a alien time and place surrounded by garish weirdos who have no idea who he is.

Said weirdos are; Charlie (Hannah Douglas) a dungaree-clad femmesexual; Lucy (Jenny Johns) a Katie Hopkins clone; M-Cat (Kit Loyd) a gangly wannabe MC; Felix (Neil Summerville) a headache-inducingly OTT queen and; Rachel (Tracey Ann Wood) a homely 'normal' woman who happens to be *gasp* Jewish.

Now, we're not in your Big Brother glory days - we're on Channel 5. This is the dying fart of the format, the contestants all too aware that few are watching and even fewer give a shit. They're desperate not to get cancelled, hyperaware that they can't be boring and eager to latch onto anything that could boost viewing figures.

Enter Adolf Hitler, whose eccentricities, manic temperament and tendency to spark conflict are all the ingredients needed to make him a hit. After his initial confusion, Hitler smoothly ingratiates himself with the moronic housemates, slowly bending them to his will as he scapegoats the Jewish Rachel as a "parasite" and "freeloader".

The first time I heard the conceit I was a little leery that this would be simple Hitlersploitation: revolving entirely around how lol random monkeycheese putting Hitler in this situation would be. But writers Hew Rous Eyre and Max Elton display not only a firm grasp of the dynamics of Big Brother, but also a decent interpretation of the appeal of fascism and exploring the wrinkles of Hitler's personality.

The show is crammed to the rafters with broad comedy moments as 2016 era idiots struggle to process Hitler's behaviour. Though it is essentially a one joke show, it's at least a funny joke and well-delivered. Chance's Hitler is a whipcrack tight scribble of skinny limbs and hilariously cartoonish expressions. In no way is Chance trying to portray a realistic Hitler (to say nothing of the multiple historical inaccuracies) he's more like a manifestation of the popular 2016 image of what Hitler was, or a political cartoon come to horrible life. 

Chance makes Hitler so funny that we begin to feel a smidge of sympathy for him being stuck with the Big Brother contestants. For all Hitler's horribleness, at least he's got an ideology - as opposed to the vacuous egotism of everybody else. Particularly humorous is the contrast between the Katie Hopkins-a-like's dogwhistle crypto-fascism against Hitler's straight-up unvarnished fascism. 

Funny though all that it is, Elton and Eyre have a sincere political point to make. To contemporary eyes Hitler often appears as a comicbook villain from the distant past, with little relevance or danger to us. Yet this man's ideology entranced a prosperous, educated first world country, converting Germany into a rabidly nationalistic death-machine. 

We are not as different from early 1930s Germans as we'd like to think we are, and Big Brother Blitzkrieg exposes us as a society susceptible to fascism's siren song. It's facile to directly compare, David Cameron or Donald Trump to Hitler, yet anyone with an eye for history can identify some Nazi propagandist DNA in their ongoing deification the armed forces, blaming social and economic woes on threatening and amorphous outsiders (Jews/asylum seekers/muslims etc) and flag fluttering nationalism to paper over for deep societal issues.

In the final moments, we see the 2016 Hitler ascendant: having effortlessly demolished the flimsy constructs of identity politics with his poisonously confident authoritarianism. It's a chilling sight, a stark reminder that human nature never really changes, and that a society that doesn't understand history is doomed to repeat it.

With its keen observance of reality TV aesthetics and contestants, coupled with a dynamite central performance, Big Brother Blitzkrieg is a smart, incisive and often brutal gem of a show. Don't be put off thinking that it's all shock value - there's much more going on here.


Big Brother Blitzkrieg is at the King's Head Theatre until 30th January 2016. Tickets here.

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