It’s a boring Sunday night in Lancaster. The pubs are empty and most of the student population are hunched over their books like library-dwelling revision goblins.
However, me and four comedy loving pals are off to see comedian Phill Jupitus at the Lancaster Grand in his show “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’ve Asked You Here…”
As we took our seats in the echoey hall of one of Britain’s oldest theatres our excitement reached its peak.
Upon the stage sat a lonely microphone – a pretty standard sight for a comedy gig – but alongside the microphone stood a sign which read “Vernon Herschel-Harley, Actor/Bon Viveur, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 1899-2012.”
To say we were confused is an understatement.
As the lights went down, the unmistakable boom of Phill’s voice rang out across the theatre announcing that we would be meeting three people tonight, all of which were dead.
The first person we would meet would be Vernon Herschel-Harley, a veteran actor who died last year. ‘Vernon’ limped onto the stage gripped tight to his walking stick (which he named Bessie after the jazz singer Bessie Smith) and clutching his pipe.
He approached the mic and loudly announced who he was and that he would be taking questions about his life and career “IN THE THEATRE!”
The audience was a bit apprehensive to begin with but we soon got into the swing of things and the questions began coming thick and fast.
‘Vernon’ answered every single one with all the drama and expression you would expect from a trained actor.
He was both witty and very quick with a put-down to certain audience members who asked him about his secret affairs with various classically trained actors.
It’s fair to say the audience were loving it and there was a slight sadness when he announced he had to leave.
I was hugely impressed at his characterisation. His drama school-esque accent did not falter and he did not break character once.
Next to arrive was Kurt Schiffer who was a German submarine captain who died in 1945. This time the audience knew the score and started with the questions straight away about the war and how he felt about Hitler.
Whilst still being incredibly funny and maintaining the quick wit and sharp tongue that he had put into Vernon, he kept breaking character this time and had to keep turning away to laugh at some of the ridiculous things he was saying.
“One particular highlight was his inability to control his laughter as he uttered the phrase “these are the eyes that sunk the Bismarck!”
Usually this would be considered highly unprofessional and a comedy sin to laugh at your own jokes but in this instance it added to the humour.
The last person to come on stage was Jupitus as himself, but he died in 1952 and a hologram of him was being broadcast back in time. This meant we could ask him any questions about his life from now until his death in the future, provoking lots of questions along the lines of “what happens to [insert celebrity]?” or “Is [insert TV show] still going in 2052?”
There was no characterisation really needed here as he was playing himself but he kept up the illusion that he was from the future so well that you genuinely started to believe some of the things he was telling you.
Overall it was a brilliant show that left me and my friends with both a sense of an evening well spent and the feeling that none of us will ever be as funny and quick. It was an original idea that really worked with Phill’s surrealist comedy style and he kept us all wondering what he would say next.