Before we get started, there’s no argument: era-defining 1988 action classic, Die Hard quite definitely is a Christmas movie. Not only is it set on Christmas Eve, Bruce Willis as cop John McClane is a diamond-in-the-rough Santa fighting for his family as everyone around him loses their heads. Or gets them blown off. It’s practically Elf, folks.
It’s therefore a clever move for The Kings Head to programme Yippee Ki Yay’s unique performance poetry version of the film this holiday season. The iconic pub theatre should be celebrated for giving Londoners a novel choice of festive viewing. That is not to say there isn’t plenty to enjoy any time of year. In fact, the show is already scheduled for a post-yuletide tour
Yippee Ki Yay is a solo recreation by self-proclaimed Die Hard uber-fan and London Poetry Slam winner, Richard Marsh. He gives us all the action and characters, thrills, spills and wisecracks of the original which, it turns out, lends itself surprisingly well to poetry. Marsh self-consciously presents McClane’s derring-do as heroic in the classical sense. Taking his lead from Ancient Greek epics, he liberally peppers his text with examples, name-checking Achilles, Icarus, Helen, Cassandra and others. Even when it is achingly self-aware, the text is fortunately never leaden or overly literary. It’s too busy making us laugh. A moment when, as McClane, Marsh points out the flaws in the verse is one of the evening’s funniest.
Marsh’s text would be enough to impress, but he’s a thoroughly engaging performer too. His timing is impeccable and audience interactions utterly charming. A self-confessed dork in a vest? What’s not to love? Bruce Willis’s drawl and Alan Rickman’s nasal tones are used to great effect. Voice and accent coach Alice White ought to take a bow because both, on the face of it, seem unlikely from our mild-mannered poet. Director Hal Chambers and movement director Emma Webb make sure every ounce of fun is had with the staging. We root for gun-toting Marsh as he takes out the toy bear that represents henchman Tony, for example. There is a timeless simplicity and universality to such storytelling. Despite impressive light and sound cues, this is performance in its purest form.
Amongst the intense movie action, there is a parallel personal narrative. Through references to the film, we learn of Marsh’s relationship with Jenn – the woman he falls in love with, marries, has children with and almost loses. It’s heart-warming stuff but didn’t always feel overly welcome. The hostages at Nakatomi tower still need rescuing. Shouldn’t we head back there?
It all comes together in the end though. Buoyed by our goodwill, Marsh goes as far as rewriting the film’s ending to bring his story strands to a satisfying close. All in all, if you like your action movies with heart and your poetry smart, fast and funny, Yippee Ki Yay will prove a welcome treat this Christmas.
Written by: Richard Marsh
Directed & Dramaturg by: Hal Chambers
Movement Direction by: Emma Webb
Lighting Design by: Robbie Butler
Sound Design by: Ben Hudson
Produced by: James Seabright
Yippee Ki Yay plays at King’s Head Theatre until 31 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.