Tag Archives: James Mack

Spike

Spike

★★★★

Watermill Theatre

Spike

Spike

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 31st January 2022

★★★★

 

“John Dagleish embodies Spike Milligan in a memorably empathetic way”

 

This tribute to the comedy legend Spike Milligan is the work of ‘Private Eye’ editor Ian Hislop and his colleague and friend Nick Newman. It coincides with the 20th anniversary of the death of this renowned writer of the BBC’s anarchic radio comedy show ‘The Goon Show’, which ran from 1951 to 1960.

Many under the age of 45 will be barely aware of Milligan, who as Stephen Fry, in the guise of a BBC announcer, points out at the end of the show, was comedic gold for generations that followed him. ‘The Goon Show’ was a brilliantly disruptive success for the Corporation, even if the managers there didn’t quite understand it. It remains available online to this day.

There are jokes and madcap nonsense by the box load in this warm and affectionate play which grew out of a reading of the extensive and argumentative correspondence between Milligan and the BBC. Spike discovered the BBC was run by the same officer class he’d resented in wartime. Why, he wanted to know, was the writer of the show paid a fraction of that given to the ‘talent’ Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers? And what was wrong with poking fun at royalty?

The play is structured as a loose series of chronologically arranged scenes beginning with the very early days of ‘The Goon Show’, just six years after the end of the Second World War. The BBC was male-dominated then. By way of balance, Margaret Cabourn-Smith opens the show as the likeably goofy sound effects girl who like her colleague the Head of Drama’s Secretary, ‘will some day run the place’.

Robert Mountford is the entertainingly preening BBC executive who is quick to give Spike a dressing down that flips him to the nightmares of wartime. John Dagleish embodies Spike Milligan in a memorably empathetic way. He has the look of Spike, who he imagines as a troubled and inward looking outsider, still fighting a war at the BBC.

Jeremy Lloyd gives an excellent impersonation of the young Harry Secombe and the trio of Goons is completed by George Kemp (of Bridgerton) as a suave and smooth-talking Peter Sellers. James Mack gives a tour-de-force performance as the harried Director of ‘The Goon Show’. Ellie Morris memorably plays Spike’s inevitably long-suffering wife, June, as well as other roles.

‘Spike’ is probably at its best in the second half when we see a Goon Show being recorded. If the ending of the play was slightly unexpected (and there was no ‘Ying Tong iddle-i-po’!), it was hard to imagine how else to bring down such a hugely entertaining show.

Spike Milligan once joked that he’d be remembered as the man who ‘wrote the Goons and then died’. This show is an enjoyable celebration of his life’s work and a feast of nostalgic fun that will delight audiences of all ages.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Spike

Watermill Theatre until 5th March

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Brief Encounter | ★★★ | October 2021

 

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The Rivals – 5 Stars

Rivals

The Rivals

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd March 2018

★★★★★

“A feast of high-blown cod grandiloquence is delivered with crisp authority”

 

“Love. Zounds!” Newbury’s delightfully cosy Watermill Theatre has a sparkling hit on its hands in an adaptation of Sheridan’s The Rivals. First performed in 1775, and written in a desperate rush to finance a life lived beyond his means, the play satirises the lives of the well-to-do in the hotbed of intrigue that was Georgian Bath.

The twisting path to true love, with all its deceptions and vanities, is brought to life with real zest by a strong ensemble, directed by Jonathan Humphreys. The piece has been shortened and sharpened by its adaptor Beth Flintoff, complete with a re-written prologue and epilogue. The first compares the hot stories of today with Sheridan’s time, and the second keeps the focus on the women and the way love really does make the world go round.

James Cotterrill’s design features a period-looking thrust stage and a ravishing cascade of high kitsch drapes, in a riot of pink and purple frills and furbelows that neatly parodies the pretensions of the characters on the otherwise empty stage. This is a play of words, not deeds. A feast of high-blown cod grandiloquence is delivered with crisp authority by a talented cast.

Some of the best lines are spoken by the eponymous Mrs Malaprop, played with a wicked sense of fun by Julia St John. Her niece is memorably ‘as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile’. The malapropisms are sometimes new (I don’t think Sheridan knew about the calamari which Mrs Malaprop substitutes for a calamity) and they come so thick and fast you’ve hardly time to work out what she really meant to say before another rib-tickler comes along.

Michael Thomas plays Sir Anthony Absolute with a delightfully pugnacious swagger. Ncuti Gatwa is his son Captain Jack, the focus of a web of love complications that had the audience in stitches. His delivery, animated expression and movement (directed by Simon Pittman) wittily evoked the character of the silver-tongued dandy at the centre of the play.

His love is Lydia Languish (recent RADA graduate Emma Denly). She’s far from being a complete air-headed flibbertigibbet, in an interpretation that like Charlotte Bate’s satisfying portrayal of Julia that was as much about empowering the women as it was about reducing them to mere figures of fun.

As Faulkland, James Mack gave an engaging performance as a daft buffoon whose love always comes with a ‘but..’. Christopher Logan has some great comic moments in best stage Irish as Sir Lucius O’Trigger in a role that got Dublin-born Sheridan into trouble at the play’s premiere.

Daniel Abelson completes the versatile cast of eight as Bob Acres. He plays the role in a lusciously broad Bristollian accent that perfectly suits his booby of a character. Other characters are also played with versatility by the cast, so much so in fact that there seemed to be actors missing at the enthusiastic curtain call that concluded tonight’s performance.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Philip Tull

 


The Rivals

Watermill Theatre until 21st April

 

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Teddy | ★★★★★ | The Watermill Theatre | January 2018

 

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