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David McCulloch and Hannah-Cait Harrison - Ay Up, Hitler Interview

Ay Up, Hitler is the untold "true" story of what happened at the end of WWII. After losing to the Allied Forces, Hitler and his cronies manage to escape Germany and go into hiding in the last place anyone would think to look... Yorkshire! Swapping the Hugo Boss for flat caps and wellies, and adopting strong Northern accents, Adolf and the lads meet down the pub to plan their epic comeback: Operation Fourth Reich!

Ahead of Edinburgh Fringe I caught up with producer and playwright David McCulloch and producer Hannah-Cait Harrison to discuss the show.

Having enjoyed a couple of successful tours, let’s go back to the beginning, what inspired Ay Up, Hitler?
DAVID: This was very much a case of the title came first, and then I worked backwards from there. Back in 2017 I was in rehearsals for a production of John Godber’s Bouncers, with BlackBox Theatre Company. For some reason, during a break in rehearsals Hitler popped up. Not in the flesh thank Christ, but just in conversation. I'm not sure how it happened but someone mentioned that there had been rumours he'd visited the North of England at some point in his life; Liverpool to be precise. I said "That's a shame, because if it had been Yorkshire, people would have greeted him by shouting Ay Up, Hitler!"
And that is literally how it all started, from there we would mess around in rehearsals imaging what a Northern Hitler would be like, either in a Kitchen Sink Drama setting, or one reminiscent of a 70’s/80’s BBC Comedy. Our director Chris Hawley encouraged me to get these ideas down and actually turn this into something, and so over the years that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. It took a bit of time, after Bouncers was over, I lost the creative spark and didn’t think I could write a show like this… but no one told Chris that and he spent an entire year generating buzz for a show that didn’t exist! So, when that was fed back to me I realised “Well I better get on and write this thing then!”
Obviously Hitler will strike a chord with people, how did you approach making a comedy centring around him?
DAVID: This script has been many years in the making, going through redraft, after redraft, after redraft because you want to make sure, with a show like this that not only does it make people laugh, but also deals with sensitive topics in a delicate way, and never loses sight on who the real victims of mockery and ridicule are… which in the case of this show are Hitler and those who would support his views and ideologies. I believe the best way to rob tyrants of their power is to make fools of them, and that is very much how I approached creating this play, but at the same time exploring the dangers of rising modern day fascism and exploring the notion of whether a man like Hitler could survive, or indeed potentially thrive in today’s socio-political climate.
Also, the key to putting the script together for me was making sure I do my homework. Research, research, and then – just to be safe – MORE research!
What would you say to any one who sees the poster and instantly dismisses it?
HANNAH-CAIT: I’d say that’s a real shame, because there’s a deep and powerful message behind the show, and people will miss out on us lambasting the dictators of the past whilst shining a light on the political figures we have today. The show is also REALLY entertaining on top of that. Give it a go, it’ll surprise you.

Having read the website, there’s surely a show in the way you created Gamma Ray Theatre! How do you reflect on the time since you set up the company to where you are now?
HANNAH-CAIT: I can’t help but reflect on the fact that David and I met in a venue called “The Space” in London and are now taking our first show up to “The Space at Surgeon’s Hall” in Edinburgh.
I’d say we’ve come a long, long way, from meeting up to start a company, dating, moving in together, getting a dog, getting engaged and now doing Edinburgh, our lives have become entwined together in so many brilliant ways. We also work SO well as a pair, which we weren’t to know initially. David’s the brains of the operation and I’m the artistic one. So, he does the marketing and has written the show, and I do the props, costumes and making of things. It works so well, and we complement each other perfectly.
DAVID: We also prop each other up as well. Given the immense pressure (mentally, physically, financially etc) on putting on a show in general, let alone taking it to the Fringe, there have been a few times where the stress has gotten too much and, in a fit of panic, I’ve contemplated pulling the plug. Thankfully I have Hannah to essentially talk me down every time. We support each other, encourage each other, and give each other a kick up the arse when needed from time-to-time.
The ethos of Gamma Ray Theatre is to focus solely on new writing, why did you choose to do this?
HANNAH-CAIT: The ethos came about the first day that David and I met. We met at a writing competition called “28 plays later”, where every day for the month of February, you write a short play based on a prompt. At the meet up in March we realised that there were HUNDREDS of new plays written, with nowhere to go. It was after a second meet up and planning session, that we realised there were very few companies championing solely new work, and so we decided to change that.
I know you also wanted to support local artists in the Hampshire area which often are over looked by artists from London or other cities. Have you seen more recognition for local artists since you began or is there still a long way to go?
DAVID: There is still a long way to go for sure. Given that funding for anything Arts based is pretty much non-existent in this day-and-age, local Theatres tend to be going for sure fire hits (National Tours of Popular Musicals and Star Vehicles), and with these all coming from London, we do feel that Local Artists are being sidelined. However since we started, things to appear to be shifting in the right direction. We’ve been approached by local venues, such as MAST Mayflower Studios in Southampton, to discuss how best they can welcome and champion local talent. There is still a long way to go, but it feels like small changes are being made for the better. We are very much going to Edinburgh, flying the flag for Hampshire talent, and so if the show goes well, we’re sure it will allow us to create more work and opportunities, and discover even more exciting talent right on our doorstep.

How have you been preparing for the run at the Fringe?
HANNAH-CAIT: It feels like we’ve been preparing for this for the last 3 years. We started this crazy journey 3 and a bit years ago, just before Covid hit. That of course changed our plans majorly, but even with cast changes, script alterations and a complete shake up, the plan has always been to take Edinburgh by storm. David has been our marketing KING, and I cannot thank him enough for how much he’s done to push the show, it’s his bread and butter, and he does it very very well.
DAVID: Basically since the venue got booked at the start of this year it’s been all systems go and I don’t feel like we’ve stopped. Having done two small scale tours in 2021 & 2022, we know the show works and that it suits an environment like the Edinburgh Fringe. Our cast and crew have also found it really easy to slip back into their roles and honestly the performance itself has been the easiest part of this whole process. It’s just everything else and of course the marketing has been dominating my life. We don’t have an extensive budget, so it’s basically been a round the clock job to try and get this shows name out there, using every method necessary, social media posts, interviews, emails, carrier pigeons. You name it, I’ve done it!

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing the show?
HANNAH-CAIT: I hope they take away the important message we’re really trying to get across. I won’t say what it is because spoiler alert, but there’s a really strong moment at the end that tends to leave the audience in stunned silence. It’s here that we hope they leave thinking “holy mackerel!”
DAVID: I will now be disappointed if I don’t hear an exclamation of “holy mackerel” from at least one audience member at the end of the show!
For me, I just hope the audience will leave the show having gone through an unforgettable theatrical experience.

Ay Up, Hitler plays at the Edinburgh Fringe at the space @ Surgeons Hall from 4th - 26th August. Tickets are available from

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