There were nearly 250 episodes of The Goon Show aired on the BBC Home Service between 1951 and 1961, many of which were written by Spike Milligan, who was born 100 years ago, so it must have seemed a good idea to resurrect three of them, including the Famous Batter Pudding Mystery, and perform them live onstage to celebrate Spike’s centenary.
The idea behind this was the brainchild of Julian Howard McDowell, principal of the Pauline Quirke Academy in Brighton, who not only directs the stage show, but who has also brought in Milligan’s manager Norma Farnes as producer.
Lifelong fans of this cult show need not worry about the transfer of The Goons to the stage. The scripts have not been adapted, but are performed exactly as Spike wrote them, even if some of the references, for example ‘Lady Docker’, are not understood by twenty-first-century audiences!
Clive Greenwood portrays Harry Secombe, and gets the voice just right, even if he is not corpulent enough! The trademark Secombe ‘giggle’ is there throughout the evening, and he clearly relishes what he is doing.
Colin Elmer, who played Kenneth Williams in the recent tour of Round The Horne, caricatures Spike Milligan with enthusiasm and bounce, including the multitude of characters and voices.
Tom Casper plays the long-suffering announcer, Wallace Greenslade, with suitable solemnity and ‘BBC English’ voice, though seems under-used, which is a pity, as he injects a modicum of stability to the proceedings whenever he is in front of the microphone.
In the original series, music was provided by Ray Ellington and his orchestra. In the stage version the versatile duo Java Jive is used, who, as well as singing, also play violin, keyboards and guitar and provide the various sound effects with aplomb.
Julian Howard McDowell, as well as directing the three episodes, also plays the role of Peter Sellers. The scripts are performed as they would have been with the actors reading their lines before a microphone and the creation of sound effects being visible to the audience.
Devotees of this cult show need not hesitate: the production lovingly creates the period and atmosphere of the original broadcasts, and, as the production is touring to 32 British towns over the next three months, you have plenty of chance to catch this 95-minute show.
Review by John Groves
If you like comedy and you are interested in its rich heritage then do make the trip to the Museum of Comedy which is a fascinating exploration of British Humour. It has its own little performance space where stand-up is performed regularly and is well worth a visit – situated in Bloomsbury Way, in the crypt of St. George’s Church.
4-8 September Salisbury Playhouse Salisbury
9 September Churchill Theatre Bromley
11-12 September Theatre Royal Windsor Windsor
13-15 September Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford
17 September Everyman Theatre Cheltenham
18 September The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham
19 September Brewhouse Taunton
20 September Trinity Theatre Tunbridge Wells
22 September Theatre Royal Winchester
23 September Richmond Theatre Richmond
25-26 September Lighthouse Centre for the Arts Poole
27-29 September Blakehay Theatre Weston-Super-Mare
2-3 October Octagon Theatre Yeovil
4 October Princess Theatre Torquay Torquay
5-6 October Haymarket Theatre Basingstoke
7 October Theatre Royal Brighton
10 October Key Theatre Peterborough
11 October Capitol Theatre Horsham
13 October Lichfield Garrick Lichfield
16 October Leatherhead Theatre Leatherhead
17 October Norwich Playhouse Norwich
18-20 October Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
21 October Waterside Theatre Aylesbury
23 October New Theatre Royal Lincoln
24 October Grand Opera House York
25 October Majestic Theatre Darlington
30 October South Hill Park Bracknell
31 October Mercury Theatre Colchester
1 November Auden Theatre Holt
5-7 November Theatr Clwyd Mold
11 November Leicester Square Theatre* London
*The final performance at the Leicester Square Theatre will be a special gala performance, at which The Goons will be joined on stage by Strictly Come Dancing star, Lance Ellington, son of original Goon Show band leader, Ray Ellington, and his band. There will also be a post-show Q&A session featuring a panel of special guests.