Spike Milligan is a name we are all (over a certain age) familiar with. As a comedian, his anarchic humour and prolific output are the stuff of legend.
The Goon Show mastermind, perhaps most famous for his gravestone epitaph ‘I told you I was ill’, is subjected to the equally razor-sharp wit of writing partners Ian Hislop and Nick Newman in their latest production Spike at the Oxford Playhouse. READ ABOUT IT HERE
Set in the 1950s, Spike is a sympathetic portrait of the wise-cracking comic, whose surreal style won over weary post-war audiences despite heavy resistance from the BBC powers-that-be.
The production is a rip-roaring tribute to the times, paying homage to the wonders of radio entertainment before the arrival of television.
But lurking behind the cosy comforts of Auntie are the all-too-recent horrors of the Second World War. Scenes flit suddenly and explosively between the BBC studios and the artillery heavy battlegrounds of France, to the military hospital where a shell-shocked Spike is ordered back into the fray despite doctors’ concerns.
Played by Robert Wilfort, Spike is a tortured comic genius, battling depression and PTSD as well as waging war against the constraints of the Beeb. His comic brilliance shines bright alongside his Goon show partners Harry Secombe, played by perfectly (high) pitched Jeremy Lloyd, and suave film star Peter Sellers, played by Patrick Warner.
Robert Mountford’s pompous but ultimately likeable BBC exec is a perfect sparring partner and Ellie Morris is excellent as Spike’s long-suffering wife June.
The quips keep coming even when hangdog Spike is at his lowest, struggling to complete scripts on time and hurtling headlong into mental breakdowns.
This is an ultimately affectionate portrayal of a supreme talent which, although not evoking Milligan’s more anarchic tendencies, reveals a complex character never more at home than when pitting his wits against the Establishment.
The sparkling script, tight production and strong cast, including a fun exploration of the BBC’s sound effects department played to great comic effect by Margaret Cabourn-Smith, are guaranteed to lift spirits as the dark autumn night draw in.
Spike is on at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday October 1. Book here: https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/spike