The latest comedy by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman that had its world premiere at The Watermill Theatre Newbury in January, has finally arrived at the New Theatre in Cardiff.
ROBERT WILFORT (Gavin and Stacey, Bridgerton) plays the lead role of ‘Spike Milligan’, PATRICK WARNER (‘Peter Cook’ in The Crown, One Man, Two Guvnors and Play that Goes Wrong) is ‘Peter Sellers’, and JEREMY LLOYD (The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Trial by Laughter) has returned to his critically acclaimed role as ‘Harry Secombe’ – who was born in St Thomas in Swansea (Harry not Jeremy).
TV comedienne and podcaster Margaret Cabourn-Smith (Motherland, Miranda, Buffering) will reprise her role as ‘Janet’, as will James Mack (The Watermill’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Rivals, Macbeth and Journey’s End) as ‘Denis Main-Wilson / Peter Eton’, Ellie Morris (The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Movie Night, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery for Mischief Theatre company) as ‘June’, and Robert Mountford (The Habit of Art, The Haunting of Alice Bowles for Original Theatre Company, House and Garden for The Watermill) as ‘BBC Executive’. Peter Dukes will join the company as ‘BBC Announcer’, as will Tesni Kujore as ‘Myra’, and Sam Ducane as ‘Doctor’.
“I’m Not acting crazy. I’m the genuine article.”
No one summed up the genius that was SPIKE MILLIGAN better than the man himself. For those who followed his life as it it unfolded before us, or perhaps you come to him through the wealth of archive footage and recordings, there is no doubt that he was a one-off, never to be repeated.
The tour finishes its run at the New Theatre in Cardiff later this month, which is pretty much a hometown visit for Porthcawl actor Robert Wilfort who plays Spike. We do of course know Robert as Jason in Gavin and Stacey, the role which has made stars out of him, and every other member of this classic BBC sitcom.
So when we put a Zoom call in to Robert we did, of course, have to chat about that, and the ‘fishing trip’. But first Spike and why he took on such a challenging role and complex character?
Incidentally, we must applaud Robert. We called him at home and for the duration of the entire interview (15 minutes) he held his phone at arms length – with barely a shake (almost!).
Spike was a man who seemed to spend most of his life at odds with those who got under his skin – and there was a lot of them if you believe his autobiographies.
He joined the British Army in the 1940s, under protest apparently, right at the start of WWII. He came close a few times, particularly to an exploding shell and he was hospitalised with shell-shock.
When he finally escaped army life he started, what he called his ‘real work’ as an author and humourist, and occasionally playing the trumpet in local jazz bands.
That fighting spirit stayed with Spike most of his life but particularly through the 1950s when he went back to war, this time with the BBC.
Long before the world had Monty Python, way before we had any crazy ‘alternative comics’ setting the stage alight, we had The Goon Show. Peter Sellers, Swansea’s very own Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan, although originally it was Michael Bentine who made up the trio.
The radio shows that the ‘Goons’ turned out re-wrote any rules of comedy, and are still regarded as some the most ground-breaking, influential shows in British comedy. For Spike However, under the pressure of writing all the scripts he suffered a breakdown and became a clinical manic-depressive.
The show opened at the Cheltenham Everyman on 6th September, and toured to Malvern, Guildford, Oxford, Salisbury, Brighton, Aylesbury, Glasgow, Richmond, Blackpool and Cardiff. SPIKE is directed by Watermill Artistic Director Paul Hart, with design by Katie Lias, lighting design by Rory Beaton. The Composer is Tayo Akinbode with sound design by Tom Marshall. Anjali Mehra is Movement Director and Ruth Sullivan is the Foley Sound Consultant.
For fans of Spike, The Goons and those characters who both influenced and annoyed Spike (in equal measures), this is definitely a show for you.
It’s 1950s austerity Britain, and out of the gloom comes Goon mania as men, women and children across the country scramble to get their ear to a wireless for another instalment of The Goon Show. While Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers get down to the serious business of becoming overnight celebrities, fellow Goon and chief writer Spike finds himself pushing the boundaries of comedy, and testing the patience of theBBC.
Flanked by his fellow Goons and bolstered by the efforts of irrepressible sound assistant Janet, Spike takes a flourishing nosedive off the cliffs of respectability, and mashes up his haunted past to create the comedy of the future. His war with Hitler may be over, but his war with Auntie Beeb – and ultimately himself – has just begun.
Will Spike’s dogged obsession with finding the funny elevate The Goons to soaring new heights, or will the whole thing come crashing down with the stroke of a potato peeler?
Writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman said……….
“It’s a privilege to take ‘Spike’ on tour, exploring the genius of Britain’s most inspirational and ground-breaking comedian. And of course, it’s another chance to steal all his jokes and pass them off as our own. Spike Milligan may be Goon, but he’s not forgotten.”
The Watermill production of SPIKE is at the New Theatre in Cardiff on the last dates of the tour through till 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 for no other reason than it always makes me smile, let me share one of my favourite Spike Milligan gags (still relevant today)…..
‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, which is just long enough to be President of the United States’