Phill Jupitus is a busy man this Fringe. He is appearing in no less than five shows on an almost daily basis. For a man who will probably be sick of living in just over three weeks’ time, it is fitting perhaps that his improvisation performance Achtung!/Acting! sees him portray two characters who are already dead.
The two recently deceased individuals will already be familiar to those who enjoyed Jupitus’ 2014 show You’re Probably Wondering Why I Asked You Here. The audience are treated to the company first of movie star Vernon Herschel Harley who then makes way for the ‘incredible’ WWII U-boat captain Korvettenkäpitan Kurt Schiffer. The first thing to say is, of the two, Herschel Harley is the more entertaining, but both are more than capable of making you laugh hysterically.
Jupitus has mastered the art of injecting glee into the faces of anyone he performs for. The way that he develops both characters with simple anecdotes and stories is worthy of the very greatest storytellers, and he is making it up on the spot. Historical accuracy is (thankfully) not the point, which gives him the license to talk about how he orchestrated a pantomime in the trenches, and how it was his U-Boat that sunk the Bismarck following a steamy encounter with a whale. Anything he says just adds to the enigma and brilliance of both of his characters, the transition between the two being handled by an intimate moment of audience involvement.
It is just as well that this is a performer so experienced and obviously talented at what he does. One would think that your typical Fringe audience at half past two in the afternoon would be fairly mellow, happy to bask in the greatness of a man with more than thirty years in entertainment. As Phill Jupitus found out, this could not be further from the case. Like vultures ripping the flesh off a corpse until only the bones remain, they interrogated both characters as to every detail of their lives intoxicated by the possibility of a slip up. To be fair to Jupitus, he survived with his integrity largely intact and avoids a constant stream of inconsistency (even if he did get the year of the famous WWI football match wrong).
Jupitus takes the continuity expected by the audience and turns it against them. In this particular show, he had an ongoing feud with a woman who knew her war history and spoke fluent German (not great for a fictional U-Boat commander to contend with). Those who pester him the most find themselves on the receiving end of Jupitus’ most long-lasting and funny assaults. Whenever they try to catch him out, he catches them out. It is the hallmark of a master improviser.
Most importantly of all, the sides of anyone who comes to the show will be well and truly split. Jupitus never stops making you smile or wheeze with laughter, resulting from the believable absurdity of both Herschel Harley and captain Schiffer. The way in which he introduces both characters catches the audience completely unaware, and it is impossible to predict what you will be laughing at next. He is clearly enjoying it too, cracking up at his own jokes on more than one occasion.
The show is not bulletproof, by any means. What it does show is that one of the Fringe’s most seasoned performers has once again delivered the goods. If the rest of his shows are anywhere near as entertaining as this, Phill Jupitus fans are in for a great August.
Phill Jupitus: Achtung!/Acting!
The Stand Comedy Club
Until 27th August
Photo credit: Andy Hollingworth