The playwright Roy Smiles - an apt name in the circumstances - has written an interesting play, in the form of a Goon Show pastiche, about the life of Spike Milligan and his relationship with the Goons. So far as I'm aware, it began life as a work for stage - and is enjoying wide popularity. I've compiled a few summaries of reviews of the stage performance, and my own remarks about the subsequent radio adaptation, which worked splendidly, are at the foot of the page.
Juliet Ace has also written a radio play in which references to The Goons appear; this is described lower down.
Ying Tong: A Walk with the Goons ....2007
Radio play, R4, 4 Apr. 07. Adapted from the stage play by Roy Smiles.
Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, April 16. Tickets: $65-$73. Bookings: (02) 9250 1777. Ends May 26.
Precis of a review by Deborah Jones, Sydney Opera House, 19 Apr. 07. (Performances from 16 Apr - 26 May 07.)
Roy Smiles gets one thing right: there is a bottomless well of veneration for the Goons and their chaotic, anarchic humour.
Ying Tong has a tiny thread of plot. Shunting from dream to reality and radio soundstage to hospital ward on an evocative set designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, it focuses on Milligan (Geoff Kelso getting the vocal rhythm just right) as he pulls the plug on writing for The Goon Show after nine series.
Blocked and monumentally depressed, he sees his fellow Goons - Peter Sellers (Jonathan Biggins), Harry Secombe (David James) and Wallace Greenslade (Tony Harvey) - in all sorts of guises.
When Eccles, Neddie Seagoon, Grytpype-Thynne and the rest take the stage, all is well. Ying Tong is borne aloft by the Goon genius. Smiles has much less success in writing convincing lines for their creators.
Daily Telegraph: Ying Tong proves both hilarious and
deeply moving and in the theatre you canít ask for much
more than that.
Sunday Times: The show has an invigorating spirit of insanity.
Guardian, Michael Billington:
A Goon Show is underway but Spike Milligan (Geoff Kelso) has been institutionalised. The problem is Spike canít write any more.
Set in a psychiatric ward and a radio theatre Smiles's play shows a clinically depressed Spike in 1960 haunted by his own creation and exhorted by Sellers and Secombe to produce one more series. In the second half the play surreally expands to offer us a pastiche Goon Show . Eccles, Bloodnok, Grytpype-Thynne and the rest are all wheeled out in an attempt to rescue Milligan's marbles.
THE RADIO PLAY - reviews
As he was writing a new series of The Goon Show, Spike Milligan had one of many nervous breakdowns. The cause? Take your pick from pressure of work, Milligan's experiences in the second world war, or a lifelong predisposition to depression. Whatever, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
That's the setting for Ying Tong: A Walk With the Goons (2.15pm, Radio 4), in which Milligan is visited by a string of characters both real and imaginary, from Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers to Neddie Seagoon and Bluebootle. Stars James Clyde, Kai Owen, Toby Longworth. .......Phil Daoust, Guardian.
......does rather well, thanks to some excellent original writing and a believably Spike-ish performance from James Clyde. ....Ruth Margolis, Radio Times
There's not much plot, and not a lot of psychological insight, but who wants medical history in a radio
play about a comic genius? His work is what he'll be remembered by, and this play "pops with the erratic
brilliance of a careless match in a box of fireworks". The voices are excellent; Seacombe in particular, the "singing barrage balloon" is spot-on. In Spike's works - "that nit had better die first or he'll end up singing at my funeral".
Perhaps the reason that the radio play works so well is that the Goons are essentially radio characters. Anything is possible.
Producer Liz Anstee; director Roy Smiles.
A sequence of plays by Juliet Ace which focuses on Mattie Jones' childhood in a small town in the South Wales of the 1950s.
Part 5. 20 Feb 04. Mattie and Bluebottle
In this last play in the series, Mattie Jones is on the brink of leaving home. It's 1955 and she is 17 years old, studying (so she pretends) for her 'A' Levels. Her parents have said she must go to teacher training college but Mattie still dreams of becoming an actress.
At home, Mattie uses her room to escape and to dream. She is still timorous of her parents but the thing that draws them together is The Goon Show. It's the one time they'll sit together as a family, around the wireless, sharing the jokes. At school, with her friend Millie, she covers up for her family life by endlessly quoting the Goons and by keeping a diary.
The girls are lazy at school and naÔve about the world but they know they are on the brink of adulthood and desperate to be independent. But Mattie's mother manages to strike one more blow of humiliation on Mattie's first day of freedom at college.
Young Mattie ...... Mali Harrie,
Older Mattie ...... Jennifer Hill,
Director: Gilly Adams.
compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
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