PUCKOON by Spike Milligan, adapted and performed by Big Telly Theatre Company at Leicester Square Theatre, London Tuesday 8th – Sunday 27th March 2011
Box Office: 0844 873 3433
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes, one interval
Review Mark Courtice Wednesday 9th March 2011
Cheerful chaos and throwaway satire
Spike Milligan’s generation lived through the Second World War and had seen a lot. It’s probably why they had a rather singular view of things when they came back to peacetime. Spike Milligan and his Goon Show colleagues mined this to make anarchic comedy, now a bit of an acquired taste perhaps for those who do not share their experiences. For 21st Century audiences the "funny" foreigners (a Chinese policeman straight out of a 50s Aladdin, for example) are a bit hard to take.
The story, set in an Irish village and featuring IRA mobsters, the British army, corpses and a scout troop (not to mention the black panther escaped from an Italian circus) is a wild farce but with a point. The starting point is the partition of Ireland in 1928, and the problems arising when a village is separated from its cemetery by the border. There are some good jokes, some throwaway satire and the whole is fantastically and delightfully silly, but the contempt for military and political buffoons is ferocious.
Big Telly’s adaptation struggles to encompass the wild firecracker of Milligan’s crazy picture of a village replete with an array of idiots, characters and local politics. They have to maintain a story line that seems designed to throw in everything from explosions to transporting corpses in the dead of night. The tone is manic, which works well except for a couple of moments when the tone lurches into seriousness or softens the biting satire.
A company of five work very hard, they’re all men so when women appear they are very much pantomime dames; there is a bit of "hat acting" when changing a hat does service for changing a character, but Jack Walsh as Milligan and John O’Mahony as the village priest grasp the opportunity to make characters that stick in the mind.
The design is dedicated to keeping the flow going, so chairs double as gravestones, and everything is on wheels. The whole company turns its hand to delivering Paul Boyd’s jaunty score, and if everything is a bit breathless and chaotic, then perhaps that’s how Milligan wanted it.
Paul Boyd, Glen Kinch, Richard Neale, John O’Mahony, Bryan Quinn and Jack Quinn
Adapted by the Company from a dramatisation by Vincent Higgins
Director Zoë Seaton
Musical Director Paul Boyd
Lighting Designer Conleth White