Secret revealed of why old

Adolf never stood a chance

TEA AND EMPATHY: Dominic Gerrard, William Findley, Sholto Morgan and David Morley

Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall

Birmingham Rep

****

SPIKE Milligan's part in the defeat of Nazi Germany might have been small but was vital, as vital as all the gunners, sappers, squaddies and the rest who made up the numbers.

This stage adaptation of Milligan's war memoirs by Ben Power and director Tim Carroll captures the absurdity of Spike's humour and a little of the futility of war.

It benefits from an enthusiastic cast who do all their own scene shifting and prove themselves to be fine musicians – Milligan was a jazz trumpeter in another life – linking sketches and anecdotes with some good jazz with a Glenn Miller medley, Pennies from Heaven and Ain't Misbehavin' and a host of wartime tunes

Sholto Morgan, in his professional stage debut showed not only some fine trumpet playing but a fine sense of timing for comedy and manic manner as the young Milligan which promises a successful career ahead of him.

Star of the show though was somewhat more experienced Matt Devereaux as the CO and bumbling MC for the show, Major Chaterjack,  who in real life actually had an M.C. – Military Cross. Devereaux was showed he was a mean sax and clarinet player.

William Findley as Goldsmith, David Morley Hale as Kidgell (seen here watering Milligan who is guarding a hole for King and country) and Dominic Gerrard as Edgington made up the rest of Battery D of the 56th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Edgington, the pianist in the Battery D Quartet  band, formed by him and Milligan,was a special friend, known by Spike as Edg Ying-Tong – inspiration later for the Ying Tong Song.  Edginton wrote the words – 67 years ago -for the brilliant Tommy Trinder Song in the show.

The full memoirs are a trilogy, probably the only trilogy ever written of seven volumes – remember this is Milligan - and Adolf Hitler was the first. The stage play is a sort of cross between M.A.S.H.,   Oh, What a Lovely War and a student review.

Much had to be left out otherwise the audience would have to bring sandwiches and a sleeping bag and trying to extract a coherent narrative from Milligan's rambling, surreal style, was a big ask. If you had to explain what the what the books were about you would have the choice of “the war” or “you really need to read them”. There is not much ground in between.

So translate them for the stage and the result is a series of sketches, monologues and snapshots scratching the surface of 1943 mixed with songs and  guest appearances by Hitler and Goebbels speaking through those  1940's seaside affairs for holiday snaps with holes for faces.

It is not rolling about in the aisles, holding your sides funny but there is plenty of  humour which gives a taste of Milligan's somewhat individual take on life and the seeds of what was to become The Goon Show. There is also a nice tribute to Buster Keaton at the end of each act and a couple of moments of poignancy such as when the four gunners in a lull in the fighting in North Africa break into an a cappella version of Nearer my God to Thee or the solo of The Thrill is Gone or the Last Post at the end. It was a war remember and Milligan despaired at the futility of it all.

Perhaps missing are the passages of anger and humanity in Milligans's war. It was a huge undertaking to bring Milligan's memoirs to the stage and probably an impossible task but the production makes a decent fist of it. Not quite there but amusing and interesting all the same.  To 13-03-2010.

Roger Clarke

 

Another view from the front

***

SPIKE Milligan's war memoirs create more chuckles than belly laughs in this comedy, and the title is very much tongue-in-cheek.

The comic's first choice was 'It'll Be All Over By Christmas', but his manager, Norma Farnes, didn't think much of that, so he came up with the alternative, involving Adolf.

The biggest laugh, having sat through the show more amused than inspired, is the suggestion that Spike and his jazz quartet could possibly have had any effect on Hitler's demise.

It left me wishing there had been much more music from the talented cast, playing the hapless boys of Battery D and less of the vaguely funny sketches.

Sholto Morgan, on his professional debut, is fine as trumpet-playing Spike, but the performance I enjoyed was that of the vastly experienced Matthew Devereaux as the officer who also acted as MC and occasionally Herr Hitler, popping his head through one of those seaside cutout figures.

The other troops, all quite convincing, are Dominic Gerrard (Edgington), David Morley Hale (Kidgell) and William Findley (Goldsmith).

As you would expect, there is a smattering of barrack room humour, but that couldn't compare with those old tunes, Chattanooga Choo Choo and Ain't Misbehavin'. And this show is not on the same radar as Dad's Army or It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

Paul Marston 

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