The Goon Show
Apollo Theatre Company and Spike Milligan Productions
We’re expecting a lot of nostalgia around tonight. Well, is there anyone, however young, who hasn’t at some time been touched by the Goon magic, if only to wonder at their parents’ or grandparents’ smiles as they reminisce fondly over the antics of Peter Sellers’s Bluebottle, Harry Secombe’s Bloodnok and Spike Milligan’s Eccles?
And yet are we really prepared to see those characters updated by modern actors? It’s somewhat chastening to realise that Milligan, had he lived, would have been celebrating his 100th birthday this year. And encouraging, too, that Tim Astley who, along with Julian Howard McDowell, directs the show, is still in his twenties (he’s bringing us Hancock’s Half Hour next year—something else to look forward to).
We’re in a BBC recording studio, in the 'fifties, where the actors, Julian, playing Peter Sellars, Colin Elmer (Spike Milligan), Clive Greenwood (Harry Secombe) and Tom Capper (Wallace Greenslade) are getting ready to record an episode of the Goon Show. We’re treated to the familiar rendering of "The Devil’s Gallop" or, as we recognise it, "Dick Barton, Special Agent" (and still remember the frustration we felt, all those years ago, when that wonderfully exciting serial was supplanted by The Archers.) They have their scripts as this is a radio show and produce their own magically effective sound effects. The dialogue is familiar in its brilliant silliness.
‘Are you a policeman?’
‘No. I’m a constable.’
‘What’s the difference?’
‘They’re spelt differently.’
Then there’s references to "concrete socks", Seagoon’s "size nineteen head" and the problem he has with leaving his alibi in the water tank overnight. And, of course, the ever-present and ominous possibility of having to deal with cold batter pudding.
But it’s not all light-hearted absurdity. This is, after all, a time when memories of World War Two are rarely far from anyone’s consciousness. But even these are capable of being made objects of fun. In part 2 of the performance, there are still ominous rumblings (Oh no. That Spanish food!) and the dreaded shirt-tail fluid, the enemy’s secret weapon, leading to the dreaded bum-burn. Only no-one in government has time to attend to the cacophony that accompanies the outbreak of exploding shirt tails. They’re all too busy writing their memoirs.
Then Bluebottle is captured by the Germans and the artillery are involved. One ‘l’ in ‘artillery’ or two? ("To ‘ell with you too" seems to be the appropriate response) and they’re all rescued by the American Fifth Cavalry. After that it seems only too logical that this section should finish with Neddy Seagoon marrying an elephant.
Part three of the piece is a crime scene. A phantom head shaver is involved. The suspects are a Mr and Mrs Dirt. Is the discarded hair really what it seems to be or is it actually waste tobacco?
Then there’s the music and sound effects, provided by Rachel Davies and Anthony Coote. Rachel’s songs are a delight while Anthony ensures that we get just the right musical accompaniment to the action.
And so we follow this joyous tale to its final rendering of the "Ying Tong Song" we all remember and to which we provide an enthusiastic clapping accompaniment.
We just hope the cast enjoyed it as much as we did.
This is the company’s first appearance in Salisbury at the beginning of a national tour involving 54 performances, from York to Brighton and ending at Leicester Square.
It’s going to reappear in Poole towards the end of September. Think I just might try and book a ticket to see it again.
Yes. It’s been that good.
Reviewer: Anne Hill