Hammerhead, Joseph Morpurgo. Pleasance Courtyard *****


I flew solo attending ‘Hammerhead’ and upon rejoining colleagues was overjoyed to discover that the first thing to come out of my mouth was ‘I have no idea what just happened!’ I have since processed and can safely say that Pleasance Two is arguably housing the best comedy show at this year’s Fringe. I am new to Morpurgo’s work and based on this year’s offering, have come away with the idea what he can best be described as the lovechild of Samuel Beckett and Rupert Goold! (Work that one out once you’ve seen it!)

‘Hammerhead’ is theatrical satire at its very best. Once you get past the initial inner ‘what on earth is happening’ moment which anyone of sound mind is likely to have, you come to realise that Morpurgo’s creative approach is completely unique, elaborately detailed and wildly extravagant. The premise is that we begin at the ‘end’ of the premier screening of Morpurgo’s one man vanity project, an adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’ in which he plays all 85 characters, in 12 languages, across 5 venues lasting over 9 hours! What follows is an hour long post show discussion during which we watch the manic actor crumble before our eyes. Before we know it, we are all playing by Morpurgo’s rules, and based on the night I was in, loving it. Questions have been given to audience members to assist in the movement of the discussion, with the addition of some questions which come in via social media. 

The beauty of this show is that everything it tries to do, it does so unashamedly, meaning that the one or two moments when you might be able to think, ‘yes, but…’ you don’t bother because the whole thing ties up so brilliantly that the only thing missing is the time the audience needs to show their appreciation. There is no attempt at naturalism in this hour; Morpurgo dives from reenactment of extracts from the film, to what I interpreted as his inner monologue (on the screen at the back) commenting on the performer’s behaviour whilst everything else was going on. It’s quite the juggling act, and one wonders if before he wrote ‘Hammerhead’, Morpurgo pretty much privately recorded his Frankenstein adaptation for his own personal consumption at home! Such is the intricate detail and complete understanding of the character. Not only that, but there’s a the subplot of his brother, and the musical he had to write in order to fund Frankenstein…did he actually write ‘Tim Shipman: Chartered Surveyor’ as well?!

Morpurgo’s on stage persona, an ‘actor’ with cringeworthy self love goes from self proclaimed God of stage and screen to a broken and defeated mess with such brash tenacity that even if on first sight you couldn’t bear the character, by the end you’ve laughed yourself stupid and, in my case, wish you’d seen the back catalogue. Sure, there are jokes about the staged awkwardness of conventional question and answer discussions, and yes, the audience interaction is funny; but what we are concerned with is the way in which Morpurgo savagely pulls apart his character’s fragile ego. It’s done with no subtlety whatsoever, but is completely mesmerising nonetheless. 

Add to all this the technical demands of the piece, rich in sound, lighting and screen cues; the precision needed to make this epic run smoothly night after night is quite mind-boggling. The use of multimedia is integral to the piece, and in no way used as a gimmick or treated as an after thought. The entire hour is meticulously structured, seamlessly executed and magnificently weird! Without question this will be one of the most ridiculous hours you will spend at this year’s Fringe, but whatever you do, go spend it!