Review by Harry Bower
“Yippee Ki Yay” is the beginning to one of the most famous catchphrases in movie history. A line so popular it has bled into other TV shows and movies since it found fame on the lips of Bruce Willis appearing in the iconic Christmas (let's not start that debate) film, Die Hard. And now, it is also the name of a one man show about the film itself. So, if you’re a fan – or even if you’re not and you just like the idea that someone made a show out of a blockbuster violent action film – sit down and grab yourself a twinkie, it’s time for my review. Welcome to the party, pal.
The 1988 film has cult status and as with all cult films there are online communities teeming with superfans discussing trivia and obsessing over details. One such fan is writer-performer Richard Marsh. Having met his future wife on a Die Hard forum, the pair fall in love and build a family on the foundation of their love for the film franchise. But what happens if that spark begins to fade and the relationship origin story needs to somehow be rewritten? That’s the framing by which Yippee Ki Yay is born and the vast majority of the show is a stylised retelling of the film scene by scene, key moment by key moment, with Marsh playing each of the characters in turn and applying spectacularly over the top yet unnervingly accurate accents to his versions of unforgettable characters (my favourite is his Hans Gruber, “the German who speaks like they went to Rada”). The intertwining of the retelling of his love story, marriage and family with the plot of the film is a clever tactic to add some sort of meaning to what would otherwise be an entertaining but flatly meaningless retelling of an eighties classic.
Marsh is a masterful poet, illustrated by his London Poetry Slam win, and the vast majority of the show is told in slick, intelligent, witty and creative verse. Honestly, it’s surprising how well dead hostages, a vault, and a man wearing no shoes, fits when told through poetry, it’s testament to the talent in the writing that it never feels out of place or forced – much of the films plot and dialogue has been reformed into carefully crafted rhyming patterns. Equally surprising is the self-awareness of the piece, surely one of its biggest strengths which endears the audience to both Marsh as a protagonist in his own story, and to a familiar film being used as a vehicle to tell said story. There are constant digs at the plot holes or perceived flaws in Die Hard, and agree with them or not, you will find yourself practically begging for more hilarious insight from this superfan who has earned the right to criticise it.
Any uncertainty lingering in the audiences’ mind as the show begins is immediately wiped away by the quality and confidence of the performer. Marsh has this frenetic energy which drags him around the stage, captivating the audience. His performance is one of ownership, both of the content (it’s his life story being told) but also the stewardship of the franchise. To take a cult movie and turn it into a hilarious stage show takes a lot of imagination and creativity, but also a passion for the source material and a sense of bravery. It’s easy to alienate an audience who might know the narrative you’re telling almost as well as you do, if not better. Marsh doesn’t even come close to doing so.
Throw in some inventive use of lighting by Robbie Butler which captures the dirty Hollywood glamour of a gritty 80s action film and its crap special effects perfectly, and some frankly mesmerizingly silly physical theatre with a teddy bear (yes, really) – and you’re golden.
If you’re like me and about three quarters of the way through, you start to think about ways in which shows can end, I wasn’t sure where we’d end up here. I mean, sure, the hostages are freed (except the ones who get brutally murdered), and John makes up with Holly – but what’s new there? Fortunately, Marsh is one step ahead of the game there and has polished a touching and appropriately mature ending after an extremely immature 75 minutes.
Yippee Ki Yay is a brilliant retelling of a beloved festive blockbuster, but its parallel love story is the real hook which grabs hold of its audience and doesn’t let go. Performed with a childlike enthusiasm by a character who is experiencing some challenging adulting, it is a love letter to a time gone by. A time when action heroes had cheesy catchphrases, and nobody cared about continuity. A time when two strangers could meet online, meet up in central London, and fall in love – all because of a film. A time with no children. A time when Alan Rickman played the bad guy instead of starring in cheap romantic comedies.
Is it a faithful recreation of Die Hard? Yeah – actually, it kind of is. Is it a well told love story? Also yes. Should you pay for a ticket and specifically choose the front row so you get given a free After Eight mint by the performer as part of the show? Definitely.
Yippee Ki Yay plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 22 April 2023, tickets and more information can be found here: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/785-yippee-ki-yay
Following its run at Wilton’s, the show continues its tour, visiting Belfast, Edinburgh Fringe and Salford amongst other towns up and down the country. For tour dates and tickets visit: http://ykylive.com/
Photos by Rod Penn