Could Adolf Hitler win Big Brother?
Yes, you read that correctly. Big Brother Blitzkrieg, at King’s Head Theatre until 30th January, is a satirical play by Hew Rous Eyre and Max Elton, in which a confused Hitler wakes up to find himself the newest contestant on the infamous reality TV show. Bemused by the pointless tasks and petty squabbles, and with an instant hatred for mum of three, Rachel, it’s not long before Hitler begins to subtly manipulate his fellow housemates – and the British public – with alarming ease.
The idea is bizarre, and the show takes arguably a little too long to make its point – though there’s certainly plenty of fun to be had along the way. But in the end the message, encapsulated in the powerfully visual final scene, is quietly horrifying. We’d like to say that the rise of Hitler could never happen again, that we’ve learnt our lesson – but the truth is, whether it’s a Big Brother contestant or Donald Trump, it turns out human beings can still be that easily led.
Stephen Chance is brilliant as Hitler, with a seemingly limitless range of facial expressions and a flawless accent. His performance brims with the charisma that won over so many, and yet also highlights the character defects – temper tantrums, stubbornness, petulance – of this legendary historical figure, who at the end of the day was just a man, and a pretty ridiculous one at that.
He’s joined by an eccentric cast of housemates, each of whom is necessarily a bit one-dimensional, a ticked box on the reality TV checklist: gay guy (Neil Summerville), young rapper (Kit Loyd), feminist (Hannah Douglas) and PR superwoman (Jenny Johns). The only one who doesn’t seem to fit is Rachel (Tracey Ann Wood), who just seems like a nice person, without any particular ‘angle’ – and is consequently derided by her fellow housemates as boring and weak.
Leaving aside Hitler for a moment, the parody of Big Brother (who’s represented by the calm, unflappable voice of George Smith) is great fun, whether you’re a fan of the show or not. But it’s also, depressingly, not a parody at all; in fact, if anything, it’s pretty tame compared to some of the things that actually go on – just look at the bizarre mix-up on CBB this week over David Bowie’s death. And even though the play’s housemates openly admit that the show’s rubbish and nobody watches it any more, they all still desperately want to win. Never mind Hitler – what does that say about the human race?
Big Brother Blitzkrieg is almost like two plays in one, taking on Hitler and Big Brother simultaneously. It’s great fun and quite, quite bonkers – the image of a Marigolds-clad Hitler clutching a feather duster is one I won’t soon forget. But Bitter Pill’s production also has a serious message, which – once it becomes clear – is unsettling and should give any modern audience pause for thought.