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Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall

Spike Milligan, adapted for the Stage by Ben Power and Tim Carroll
Hampstead Theatre
(2009)

Production photo

All of a sudden, Hampstead is going in for war plays. After the triumph of Frank McGuinness' Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Spike Milligan's take on the Second World War could hardly be more different.

Where McGuinness addressed the tragedy of conflict head-on, the future Goon uses surreal comedy to express his own experiences as an ordinary Tommy.

Spike Milligan's Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall has been adapted by Ben Power and director Tim Carroll as "an entertainment" from the six volumes of wartime memoirs written by the Irish comedian.

Rather than a play, this adaptation is closer to an ENSA variety show packed with music, song and short sketches for the most part intended to amuse rather than shock.

Therefore, it was somewhat unexpected that the most memorable scenes turned out to be those very few showing the young Spike suffering from what a generation earlier would have been described as shell shock and one later as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Watching a man who had been happily singing, joking and playing the trumpet moments before suddenly cracking up is deeply moving and gives the evening far greater depth than had seemed likely at any point in the previous couple of hours.

The tone is set early as first an MC tells corny jokes and then the band strikes up. All five members of the cast are musicians in addition to acting and there is rarely a spell of more than a couple of minutes without a tune, generally jazz-based.

The show then progresses with a series of whimsical observations about war and army life delivered by Sholto Morgan as Spike, interacting with four chums playing a number of different parts, ranging from pompous officer down to impeccably ignorant grunt.

This is all pepped up in a variety of ways including through physical humour, poetry converted into song and quick fire repartee, often with musical accompaniment.

It is in the nature of shows of this type that their appeal is far from universal. While the audience gave the cast rapturous applause at the end of the evening, regrettably for this reviewer most of the comedy passed by without even getting close to the funny bone.

The undoubted highlights came in a handful of moments featuring whimsical humour that could only have come from the pen of Spike Milligan.

However, if you love jazz or, like the Prince of Wales, worship the good old Goon, there is every chance that a trip to see this loving homage will prove to be a delight.

Playing until the 22nd August

Steve Burbridge reviewed this production at Darlington. It was also reviewed by Peter Lathan in Newcastle.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher