Theatre Review: Yippee Ki Yay – Sale Waterside Arts, Manchester

Funny, uplifting and inventive, YIPPEE KI YAY is a nostalgic and affectionate tribute to the classic movie DIE HARD.

4 out of 5 stars

It is often hard to tread the thin line in a parody between homage and evisceration, but YIPPEE KI YAY does so successfully in this excellent, poetry-driven take on the events of Yakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. The debate on whether DIE HARD is a Christmas film continues to rumble on, but in this inventive retelling of the film, the events and the legendary lines of the original are cleverly used to create a hilarious one-hour 15 minutes of comic storytelling.

The main role is taken by Darrel Bailey, who excellently interweaves the personal life of his fictional character with the events of Christmas Eve, a kitchen sink skyscraper retelling of an iconic cinematic story. As McClane battles RADA-trained Hans Gruber, so does Darrel fight for Jen and his children. The references come thick and fast throughout the one-man play, not only quoting the famous lines in the film script itself but Greek philosophy, myth, Narnia and even Harry Potter. Not a line is wasted, and the sketches of the film characters are pithy and accurate, if a little exaggerated in parts, but that is no bad thing.

The piece was originally written and performed by Richard Marsh, debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022 and is now touring the UK at breakneck speed. For DIE HARD fans, it is all there; the holes in the plot that you only notice when they are pointed out, the henchmen, the gunfights, the subtle tie-ins between scenes and, of course, the final death fall.

For those who are not fans, it is a standalone tale of heroic acts and giant teddy bears. The piece is also very physical as the choreography of movement director Emma Webb uses every inch of available floor space to carry the audience through the energetic play. Lighting director Robbie Butler also contributes to the momentum with his use of lighting, especially in the gunfire scenes. Director Hal Chambers ties everything up in a nice bow as a gift.

But above all, it is how the story itself, or more importantly, its retelling, holds the audience, which is the real star. There are laughs, moments of make-believe comedy, violence and pathos, especially in the parallel narrative of Darrel and Jen’s romance. It is funny, uplifting, and inventive, a whole play in rhyming Bruce Willis and is nostalgic in some ways. It is completely silly but with excellent comic timing and physical comedy. I shall never look at a giant airport teddy bear the same way.

YIPPEE KI YAY plays at Sale Waterside Arts on 3 April 2023