The Great British Take-Off

By Rebecca Smith

On 13 October, the Gulbenkian was graced with the presence of comedian and impressionist Jon Culshaw and comedy writer Bill Dave, both notable for their roles in BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers. They performed in their comedy show The Great British Take Off in which no celebrity was safe from Jon’s impersonation skills.

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The show is unscripted and heavily relies on prompts from news stories and the audience’s suggestions for whom Jon should impersonate. This gives the show a unique quality of being unrepetitive. As an audience member, your experience could be determined alone on who is sat in the audience with you. In two hours, we went from David Attenborough to Benedict Cumberbatch, from William Hague to Chris Eubank (all at the hands of the audience).

The satirical tone of the show was set with Jon’s first impression of Donald Trump, in which his facial expressions and hand gestures made it hard not to view him as the American president. The laughter grew more when his Trump began to interact with Boris Johnson, who Jon portrayed accurately by mumbling and taking a ‘caveman’ stance. After, Jon explained his influences for these characters and likened Boris’s actions to a child impersonating an elephant, a scarily accurate image. This light-hearted presentation of politics was well-needed, given today’s current affairs.

There was a break from the political satire, as Jon began to explain how he had found fame and met Bill Dave. He retold stories from previous jobs and auditions, but a personal favourite was from his school days, in which he managed to perfect a generic teacher’s voice so well it was relatable to all in the audience despite the differences of age, with the annoying nasal sound that can only come from a primary school teacher. He also showed his talent at impersonating the variations of English accent, giving the audience a range of the scouse accent starting at the deep tones of Paul Hollywood and ending at Paul O’Grady.

When talking about his life, Jon gave an insight into the profession of being an impressionist when he retold his meeting with Prince Charles. He explained the awkwardness of impersonating someone and then having to meet that person face to face, as he would never know if they would like his impression. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Prince did not favour seeing Jon mimic him and only responded with mumbles that created a hilariously awkward atmosphere.

The night was filled with laughter from the audience, an easy kind of laughter as well, where you only have to watch and be entertained. I would recommend this show to all, especially those who enjoy satirically impressionist comedy. I would also recommend listening to past Dead Ringers episodes found on the Radio 4 website because Jon’s Trump impression needs to be heard to be believed.