Writers: Ian Hislop and Nick Newman
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: Simon Topping
This affectionate homage to Spike Milligan and the beginnings of The Goon Show, one of the BBC’s most popular post war comedy radio programmes, which Milligan created and wrote, is a big hit with the Brighton audience.
Janet (Margaret Cabourne-Smith) begins the piece with a tour around her sound effects table. The character playfully sets the scene of the gentle radio that existed before the Goons and how Spike Milligan helped shape the soundscape of the future.
Quickly Spike (Robert Wilfort) bursts onto stage full of life and creativity, he wants more explosions, more umph; a radio switched up to eleven. The BBC executives are unconvinced. Spike has to fight all the way for his artistic vision to be achieved and as the night goes on we see these early struggles.
Intertwined with actual Goon scripts and funny set pieces the action moves back and forth from the second world war, where Spike sustained what was then known as “Shell Shock”, more commonly known today as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We see how this shapes his writing and relationships and leads to a nervous breakdown.
All the cast are wonderful in this piece. Wilfort, probably most commonly known as Jason from the BBC hit comedy Gavin and Stacey, is vibrant and vital in the lead role. A loving and studied tribute, rather than an impersonation, sees the actor revel in Milligan’s anarchy and anguish producing a wonderfully vital portrayal.
The actors around Wilfort fabulous compliment him. Jeremy Lloyd, as Harry Secombe shows a great tenderness in his role and Cabourn-Smith as Janet perfectly times her comedy performance and is often the funniest person on stage.
The play is funny throughout. A couple of set pieces really tickle the Brighton crowd. Firstly three upper class critics talking about the show as it starts and then three years later as it becomes a success are wonderfully pompous, akin to characters created by the Beyond the Fringe team in the 1960’s. Each scene with them makes the room roar with laughter. Also a fabulously funny scene with Peter Brough, the on air ventriloquist, and the BBC executives is absolutely hilarious.
Penned by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, the script is taught and buzzing with comedy and life. All the catchphrases are there, as is the humour and the pathos. Milligan was a complex and unusual man which is conveyed in the piece, but this is a play compiled by two people who obviously love their subject. It is a love letter, a homage to the man who almost single headedly shaped the path of modern post war twentieth century comedy. I delightful play to watch whether you’ve heard of The Goons or not.
Reviewed on 11th October, plays to 15th in Brighton and on UK Tour