Mat Ewins is a passionate fan of history and of stand-up comedy, so quite naturally he brings his ardour and insider knowledge of both to create a show that is clever, silly and brilliantly funny. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and quite gloriously so.
His premise is simple. Most, if not all, important figures from history were actually comedians. He then takes four such figures, Henry VIII, Cleopatra, Peter da Vinci (Leonardo’s younger, less successful brother) and most bizarrely of all the Apollo 13 spaceship and re-imagines them as stand-up comics. Each of these is then tied into a certain comic persona, the standard tropes of stand-up comedy, which then becomes beautifully funny. For instance, the zany, suit-wearing observational comic Peter da Vinci- ‘You know yeah, how in Venice yeah, they have all the water yeah, but they don’t have any roads, yeah. What’s that all about? Yeah.’ Henry VIII is a typical bar room comic from the seventies doing six times more mother-in-law jokes than you’ve ever seen before.
Each persona is incredibly well crafted, a seamless blend of historical trivia with specific comic styles. Cleopatra has written notes for the gig on her hand which are of course all in hieroglyphics. Apollo 13’s jokes are unashamedly offensive or as he would say it they're ‘edgy, on the edge of space’.
In between costume changes there was a video introducing the next character. These video interludes are generally less entertaining than Ewin’s actual stand-up, but they did have their high points. The mockumentary on the decline of Cleopatra caused by her desire to jazz up her own catchphrase is side-splittingly funny. Think of Stewart Lee’s ‘mice are fag rats’ parody but with more sass.
As for the costumes themselves, they were as hilarious as anything Ewins had to say. I can’t tell why but the yellow bath-mats and safety pins that Cleopatra wore instead of golden bangles was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
The end of the show brings us firmly into the modern world with what is by far the most unique end to a stand-up gig I've ever heard of and brings an entirely new dimension into the notion of audience participation. Silly, imaginative and cheek-achingly funny, I was still giggling away for hours after the show.