Josh Portera, Hedgerow Theatre Company Member
Working on a spoof like Bullshot Crummond poses an interesting dilemma as the actor playing the villain of the piece. The source material, Bulldog Drummond, is a trope-filled set of hijinks that can easily be played upon for humor, but the integral part of what makes these theatrical devices funny is their naiveté; the simple fact that they are being played realistically and honestly as if they have any place in the real world. The conflict that arose in rehearsing the part of Otto von Brunno came out of this unique duality, where the character had to be at the same time funny and realistic, even though spoof at its core is the act of exaggerating specific tropes for comedic effect. With the already naturally trope-tastic source material, it became very easy to skip right into a foundationless caricature.
The “Evil German” character Otto represents was born from a very real place of fear in the British people following World War I. We look back on some of these roles and are capable of laughing now, nearly a century after WWI ended, but in the days of Bulldog Drummond characters like Otto were a real looming threat, exacerbated by the stories of shell-shocked soldiers and wartime propaganda. If Otto gets too far on the realistic side, his anger and schemes stop being funny and begin to feel out of place among the other characters.
On the other hand, this is an exaggerated take on an already exaggerated story. The original Bulldog Drummond made claims such as Drummond could “kill a man with his bare hands in a second” or “move over ground without a single blade of grass rustling.” Taking such claims and pushing them to further extremes runs the risk of becoming flat out ridiculous—go too far with the potential craziness of Otto von Brunno and he becomes an idiot, and not the kind the audience will find funny. He becomes a buffoon, a type of character that could just as easily be played by a monkey in a German uniform.
In the end, the most effective Otto is somewhere between the two extremes; his frustration is real, his plans are what he conceives to be the best way to proceed against Bullshot. He also consistently messes up and chooses more and more ridiculous ways to battle his nemesis. That’s why we find him funny—these are genuinely his best laid plans that we’re watching go awry.