Comedian Joseph Morpurgo draws inspiration from Terry Gilliam’s failed Don Quixote

PUBLISHED: 08:00 13 October 2017

Joseph Morpurgo. Picture: Paul Blakemore

Joseph Morpurgo. Picture: Paul Blakemore

PAUL BLAKEMORE

Joseph Morpurgo’s Hammerhead is couched as the televised post-show discussion for an obscenely indulgent vanity project based on Frankenstein.

The comic’s alter ego is a self-regarding actor/impresario who has staged a nine hour solo show across five venues in 12 languages, involving 85 characters.

Fortunately the audience don’t have to watch this bum-numbingly awful production – Morpurgo’s witty well crafted show allows the theatrical hubris to unfold via scripted questions from the audience.

“I thought it would be interesting to play with the idea of building a show around something the audience never actually see by having as much fun as possible with the Q&A analysis of a huge unwieldy impossible show,” says the Crouch End-raised comedian.

“I’m a huge fan of Lost in La Mancha, Terry Gilliam’s documentary about his attempt to make a film of Don Quixote that goes way off the rails. I liked the madness of that.”

Selecting Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic horror novel was far from accidental.

“Frankenstein is about a young overambitious creative who tries to make something world changing but instead makes a botched monstrosity that comes back and destroys him,” says Morpurgo whose character eventually has a breakdown.

While there’s just “a little essence” of himself in the preening luvvie, he well recognises the creative tussle of putting on a show.

“He has the self-regard and pomposity of the actor, it’s that thing of trying to push yourself and beat yourself to make something that will surprise people and have an impact, of course when you produce something, if you take it too seriously it’s the kiss of death.”

Morpurgo quips that he never set out to satirise luvvies “they parody themselves enough” but likes the “nice parallels between the character in the book of Frankenstein who has delusions of his own grandeur”.

“As the body count piles up he’s in complete denial that it’s his responsibility.”

Some of the spoof questions pitched to his character are moronic and trivial “out of keeping with his great sense of heightened self regard” and as he shows his disgust his audience grows hostile.

“It’s a take down of the ego of someone who makes things. For we artists, there’s a dark side to the ego that’s required to get stuff made.”

Growing up the oldest of four siblings, Morpurgo went to Coleridge Primary but never got involved with drama at school.

It was at Oxford University that he started doing comic improvisation with a group - a discipline he still loves alongside his solo career.

“I met lots of like minded people and it was a good platform to start battle honing myself. A lot of people think improvisation must be scarier than solo, scripted work, but you are in a group and always working with someone else.

“The solo stuff you are on your own and judged on what you have produced. With impro the audience more or less discover it with you and there’s less expectation of a complete package.”

Hammerhead enjoyed a successful Edinburgh run this summer but Morpurgo sighs that the fringe is stressful: “It’s an extremely pressured environment. I know comics make out like they’ve just returned from Vietnam and I have been guilty of doing that.

“Of course it’s just a four week arts festival, but you are performing for so long with only one day off. It’s a weird combination of your work getting judged yet it’s a place where things can start to happen for you. It was certainly an interesting environment to do a routine about putting on a giant show that’s falling apart at the seams.”

Hammerhead runs at Soho Theatre from October 16-28 then in November Joseph has a four week series starting on Radio 4.

“Joseph Morpurgo’s Walking Tour is four weird takes on getting around historical places like the Louvre or Yosemite National Park that go off the rails in a way you won’t get in a real educational audio guide.”

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