Joseph Morpurgo: Hammerhead

Joseph Morpurgo has earned a reputation for being both a crowd pleaser and a comedian’s comedian with his inventive, high-concept multimedia shows. Hammerhead more than lived up to these expectations, providing us with a monster of epic proportions.

Comparing Hammerhead to other shows of its species, Morpurgo’s show is leagues above.

We enter at ‘THE END’. Morpurgo’s character has just finished his coup de theatre – a nine hour long adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – and is here for a post-show Q&A. Audience members are given question-cards. Morpurgo answers with affected pride, using projections, props, and effects to describe the increasingly ridiculous Frankenstein production.

Inevitably, we begin to see the cracks in his confidence: questioners are made to point out the bad reviews, the financial losses, the deaths. All this builds to a cacophony of running gags until, with characteristic wit, we are left with more of a beginning than an ending. The only downside of this wry conclusion is that, as a friend said to me, you feel cheated out of giving Morpurgo a standing ovation.

Morpurgo’s monster was by turns dramatic and ridiculous, taking us from theatrical obsession and family feuds to bizarre powerpoint presentations and almost slapstick silliness. Some of the most enjoyable moments were the shows-within-the-show: clips of the actor’s prompt screens, weird diversions to GCSE exam papers, and garish original songs (I would happily buy a CD of Morpurgo’s crowdfunded musical, Tim Shipman: Chartered Surveyor). The whole production is incredibly technically ambitious. There are more light, sound, and screen cues than I’ve ever seen before in a comedy show, and this ambition pays off. At one point his bombastic character confirms the rumours that he cues his own effects using sensors on his body: the gag and its following demonstration is met to approving laughs, but honestly, the tech is so slick that you can almost believe he is telling the truth.

Yet there were moments that were less impressive. The character’s insistent desire to stick to the Q&A format was repeated without enough variation, and, though banality was part of its humour, there were too many call-backs to the same lovesick audience member to be met with much amusement. Further, the overlying juxtaposition of the Frankenstein story and Morpurgo’s own comedy show doesn’t quite gel. I was looking forward to an epiphany – a reveal where Morpurgo would reference the analogy and bring it to a climax – but it didn’t happen. The same feeling is true of Morpurgo’s innocuous title. Hammerhead? It’s like he is pointing at something but doesn’t give the audience quite enough to understand it. (Hammerhead because it’s oddly shaped? Are Hammerheads the Frankenstein’s monster of sharks? Why sharks? Am I meant to know?) With the cleverness that Morpurgo displays in his show, I have no doubt that reasons could be found. Just a few moments devoted to clinching these connections - stitching all those pieces together - would create an awe-inspiring beast.

Comparing Hammerhead to other shows of its species, Morpurgo’s show is leagues above: it is a beautifully crafted, energetic, and supremely entertaining specimen. But there is something about it which is slightly wonky, something which prevents it from being truly magnificent. Like a shark with a hammer shaped head, I suppose.

Reviews by Lily Lindon

Assembly George Square Theatre

David O'Doherty: Big Time

★★★★
Roundabout @ Summerhall

Scorch

★★★★
Underbelly, George Square

Fleabag

★★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Kiri Pritchard-McLean: Appropriate Adult

★★★★
Underbelly Med Quad

Joan

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Outlandishly funny multimedia comedy and new voodoo from the mind of the Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee and three-time Chortle Award winner. Morpurgo ‘has entire rooms laughing uproariously' ***** (Evening Standard). ‘High concept comedy, terrifically well executed’ **** (Guardian). ***** (Time Out). **** (Telegraph, Scotsman, Times).

Most Popular See More

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Dear Evan Hansen

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets