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Ying Tong | Sydney Theatre Company
Written by Claude Lequereux   
Tuesday, 24 April 2007 08:14
Ying TongLeft - David James, Tony Harvey & Jonathan Biggins. Cover - David James, Geoff Kelso & Jonathan Biggins. Photos by Heidrun Lohr

A Catholic and a Jewish knee-footed leprechaun, a Doctor Strangelove look-a-like psychiatrist, a naked tailor, a lunatic brandishing a potato peeler and the threat of a 'mince enema' – are all critters and musings from the imagination of British playwright Roy Smiles' rollicking play, Ying Tong – A Walk With The Goons. A dramatic journey to the centre of Goon comic genius - Spike Milligan's mind of lost marbles at the time of his mental breakdown.

Considered to be the most influential comedians of the second half of the 20th century, The Goon Show was a British radio show that started in 1951 and ran until 1960. Created by Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe, it changed the face of British comedy and still maintains its influence to this day at 5.30 am every Friday morning on Radio National. 

Smiles' spirited writing ricochets between a BBC radio soundstage, St. Luke's psychiatric hospital in North London and a fit of surreal flashbacks. A shell-shocked Milligan wails “It was never meant to be a raving success, it was meant to be a cult.”  “The bats are running the belfry,” in his Anglo-Irish-Indian head and his writer's block has put him in a straight jacket. He wants to pull the plug on The Goon Show after nine series but the ambitious Peter Sellers (Jonathan Biggins) is eager for him to crank out one more, while Welsh World War Two buddy Harry Secombe (David James) plays his singing conscience. 

Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell's cavernous, tiled cellar of a hospital ward, with endlessly receding arches symbolically suggests the impenetrable depths of Milligan's personal demons. He is being consumed by his own fictions, every writer's nightmare. Actor Geoff Kelso's athleticism of mouth and foot in his portrayal of this dark soul is flawless. Jonathan Biggins as Peter Sellers delights all with a crowd-pleasing Richard III impersonation as well as effortlessly juke-boxing a selection of Seller character favourites. Tony Harvey's received pronunciation is BBC World Service perfect in his role of MC Wallace Greenslade. Of particular note is David Jones as the rotund, funny-man of the valleys. He epitomises Secombe's unquenchable good humour and compassion for his impossible old friend Milligan.

The Goons seditiously rallied against the officer class with its anarchic brand of humour. England was defined by its bus queues and buggery, its legacy in India - the Bible, the railway and herpes. Hailed as comic Bolsheviks The Goons are the forefathers of Monty Python, Reeves and Mortimer and Little Britain. Long may that tune play like a broken record in our comedy head “Ying tong, ying tong, ying tong, ying tong yiddle eye poe.”


Sydney Theatre Company presents
YING TONG
A Walk with the Goons
By Roy Smiles

Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 16 April – 2 June 2007
Times: Mondays 6:30pm, Tuesdays – Saturdays, 8pm; Matinees Wednesday matinee 1pm (except 9 May at 12:15pm), Saturday matinee 2pm
Tickets: $73/ $60 concession Matinee $65/$54 concession
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777 or www.sydneytheatre.com.au/yingtong
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