Adolf and Winston (Living Spit- Brewery Theatre) ****

Adolf and Winston photo Graham Burke

Originally published on Public Reviews 10th September

History doesn’t come much more condensed than in Living Spit’s Adolf and Winston, it’s also – Blackadder aside – unlikely to come any more entertaining. Living Spit have become a little bit of a Bristol institution; their two-man romps through history have presented such belters as The Six Wives of Henry VIII andElizabeth I: Virgin On The Ridiculous. If this production has fewer laughs per minute than previous works it is down to the fact that it touches on a theme that perhaps still holds greater resonance for people today. Whereas we probably find it quite easy to chuckle at heads being lopped off in Tudor England, the stained red beaches of Dunkirk provide less easy laughs. Even if they do manage one with “It’s the only time the English have beaten the Germans to the beach”.

If you have seen previous Living Spit shows – and if you haven’t then that needs to be rectified as soon as possible – then you know what to expect. It is work that finds its strength in the lo-fi fringe scene, where a smudge of makeup which looks like a “badger’s arse” can turn you into Hitler and a dodgy blonde wig makes you into Eva Braun, who finally cuts Hitler off with a bullet to stop him from singing in his bunker.

There are other companies who do similar work, but nobody does it better than Howard Coggins and Stu Mcloughlin; they’re the most likeable performers around and their sense of stagecraft is exemplary. Their fifteen-minute rush through the history of the Second World War, a timer counting down behind them, encompasses everything from a crooning jazz standard from Adolf as Germany looks destined to sweep all before it to the final surrender in 1945, complete with a final top note that deserves a standing ovation for its sheer well-drilled brilliance.

For that is what makes the work Living Spit do so terrific. They create a sense of playful mayhem which feels fresh but is thorough and rigorous in form and structure. They create characters and moments that enlighten and enliven history; from the “black dog” of depression that inflicted Churchill during the war and appears here as a crooning Johnny Cash type, to a Roosevelt who tries one-upmanship over who claims credit for winning the war with the trilby-wearing, cigar-chomping Churchill; an argument that can still be seen in movies today. Running at just 70 minutes and with a pace that flies like a stallion and never lets up, schools teaching the Second World War in their syllabus would do well to book a trip for their students. It flies by a lot quicker and with a lot more laughs than The World at War. 

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