For those who were around to witness the genius of Spike Milligan as it happened, will remember how unpredictable and slightly unhinged he was, and I mean that with complete respect. It was his ‘never quite knowing what he would say or do next‘ approach which made him loved, and misunderstood in equal measures.

So when IAN HISLOP and NICK NEWMAN created SPIKE I wondered if it would delve into his comic, or somewhat tortured mind, and the truth is it’s both.

The play is at the New Theatre in Cardiff this week with a first-rate cast led by ROBERT WILFORT (Jason from Gavin and Stacey) who plays Spike himself. As the show focuses on Spike’s early years at the BBC we do of course get The Goons, with PATRICK WARNER as the charming, womanising ‘Peter Sellers’, and JEREMY LLOYD who is back in his critically acclaimed role as ‘Harry Secombe’, and it’s easy to see why.

Patrick Warner as ‘Peter Sellers’ Robert Wilfort as ‘Spike Milligan’ Jeremy Lloyd as ‘Harry Secombe’ in Spike (Photo: Ryan Howard)

So we do have a fair bit of ‘Wales’ on stage, in one form or other, which makes it fitting that this tour ends its run here in the capital. Actually, if you want to be really tenuous, Spike Milligan was also the favourite comedian of the Prince of Wales, as he was then. There’s a fantastic moment during the British Comedy Awards in 1994, when Spike received his Lifetime Achievement, with a message from Prince Charles. It was then he called HRH ‘the little grovelling bastard‘ – and if you need proof, go HERE.

Although this moment is a bit of a throw away line in the play, for those new to Mr Milligan, it’s worth remembering where this man’s incredible career took him during his 50 years entertaining us.

At the end of the performance there was a 20 minute Q&A with the writer of the show, Nick Newman, Spike’s daughter Jane and Robert Wilfort, who hosted the session.

When that ended we grabbed some reaction from the opening night audience, who were clearly huge fans of all things The Goons. We also had a short word with Spike’s 91 year old cousin Terry, who was celebrating his birthday last night, his wife and their niece Keara.

SPIKE – OPENING NIGHT AUDIENCE REACTION

It’s at the start of Spike’s enormous success where the show takes place, on a set reminiscent of an old BBC radio studio. KATIE LIAS designed the set which has sliding panels to transform it from studio to office and Spike’s home, where he frantically bangs away on a typewriter creating characters and sketches for what was one of the BBC’s most successful radio shows.

It’s fair to say The Goons changed the face of British comedy and still waves it influences to this day. They brought the radio to life with the craziest catchphrases, surreal storylines and some of the most ridiculously brilliant characters you’ve ever met.

I felt the play really captured the essence of it all with a zany ridiculousness you would only ever get from Spike. Robert is particularly good in the titular role, one which at times has its own challenges. Those of us who love him in Gavin and Stacey will delight in another side to his acting abilities. He brings a slightly crazed energy to the role, which personifies a young Spike to a tee.

Robert Wilfort – Spike

Although the play is incredibly funny it certainly doesn’t shy away from those parts of Spike’s life which caused him the most anguish. It cleverly pulls together the trauma he suffered during his frontline service in the Second World War and the impact this had on his mental health, something he struggled with till he died at the age of 83.

Whilst not dwelling on, it also doesn’t shy away from some major moments during his life. His first marriage to June, played by ELLIE MORRIS, who also plays Spike’s Mum. The birth of his first child, his attempted suicide and the time he tried to kill Peter Sellers with a potato peeler, which ended up with him in St Luke’s Psychiatric Hospital.

Mental illness loomed large in Spike’s life after the Second World War, but he was the first to admit that it was also his principal source of creative inspiration. He once said……

‘The best scripts I wrote were when I was ill … It took that much out of me.’

The play weaves those moments into a clever and thoughtful script but never losing sight of what this show is – a comic tribute to one of our greatest writers and performers. Seriously, who else could come up with characters like Moriarty, Ned Seagoon, Eccles, Henry Crun, and Bluebottle and make us cry with laughter at their sheer absurdity.

There’s also some nice interaction over the BBC Battles, something which Spike seem to thrive on. Producer Denis Main-Wilson (JAMES MACK) is a big supporter of Spike and sets about trying to convert a BBC exec (ROBERT MOUNTFORD) who clearly has done his homework on why The Goons shouldn’t be polluting the airwaves.

The reality was, the show was simply too damn popular to take off-air.

The cast is complete with TESNI KUJORE, SAM DUNCANE and PETER DUKES who is a mighty fine old-school BBC Announcer. I also want to give a special mention to MARGARET CABOURN-SMITH who has a number of roles including Janet, the BBC sound effects expert. She opened the show with a lovely routine explaining how the various effects were created. It was really funny and a nice reminder of how ‘simple‘ sometimes works when it comes to radio show production.

Spike was ‘young, vigorous, good-looking and a natural clown‘ (his words) and this production captures that through a series of well created moments from his life and the radio shows which made The Goons a household name. This is first and foremost a production for those who remember those pioneering days of radio comedy. But if you think shows like Monty Python are more your thing, then Spike is also for you.

Without Spike and The Goons shows like the Pythons simply wouldn’t have happened.

SPIKE is at the New Theatre in Cardiff on the last dates of the tour through to Saturday 26th November. Performances are at 7:30pm each evening with a 2:30pm matinee on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are available right now, with a variety of prices and concessions, from HERE.

And you can watch our interview with ROBERT WILFORT who plays Spike – HERE.

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