Ying Tong: A Walk with the GoonsLeft - David James and Geoff Kelso. Cover - David James, Geoff Kelso and Jonathan Biggins. Photos - Heidrun Lohr

There is no doubt that the Goons were very funny. And so are these guys. But this is not just the Very Last Goon Show of All – it is a play by Roy Smiles ( and I’m sure he does!) about them, tinged with pathos and tragedy, mixed in with the wonderful comedy that those of us who grew up with the Goons grew to know, love and imitate.

The Goons embodied the pinnacle of British humour in the 1950’s, and it has never been the same since. Without them we would never have had Monty Python or Fawlty Towers. This clever recall of Goon Shows and reverie through the extraordinary tragi-comic life of Spike Milligan is reverent, reminiscent and revealing.

Geoff Kelso is energetic, quick, sympathetic and believable in his portrayal of the marvellous and the mad Milligan, around whom the plot principally revolves – as did the Goon Show itself – with his frequent admissions to mental hospitals, breakdowns, self doubts and quintessentially tangential humour. Although Kelso’s accent lapsed every now and then into his native Australian in amongst his rapid-fire patter, this did not matter, since Milligan’s parents had migrated to Woy Woy (does anyone know woy?) and he visited this country often.  

David James plays a convincing, calming and focussed Harry Secombe, without the full Sir Cumference of his prototype, keeping the whole Goon project together against the odds of Milligan’s episodic madness and Sellers’ occasionally self-centred histrionics. 

Jonathan Biggins as Peter Sellers is a similar master of many voices, and plays an absolutely masterful Dr Strangelove imitation, which could convince one that this extraordinarily brilliant comic actor had resurrected. 

Without Wallace Greenslade we would never have known that “This is the BBC…”, and John Hannan in this role played host and several other roles with appropriate panache. These three all played roles of others who peppered Milligan’s life and delusional system. Their three leprechauns were a delightful device!

The set is a most apposite and effective stark, echo-y and isolating mad house, and the sound effects are everything one would expect of a Goon Show. The notion of Milligan being “trapped in the mind of a looney” is visually reinforced, but while Milligan’s madness, and Sellers’ much too early demise tinge this history with tragedy, the comedy reigns supreme (“See you on the stairs, Miss Bannister…”) and Milligan and his comedic genius are acclaimed as indestructible, even if he is “losing his marbles”.

History so far has shown this to be true, and as long as people can sing “Ying - tong - tiddle - i - po” once more with feeling, it is likely to remain so.

Adelaide Festival Centre’s CentreStage program presents
Sydney Theatre Company’s
Ying Tong – A Walk With The Goons
by Roy Smiles

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
When: 5 – 8, 12 – 15, 19 – 22 November, 8pm
Matinees: 8, 15, 22 November, 2pm; 11 & 18 November, 11am          
Cost: Premium $65, Adults $60, Concession $50, Students $25, Season Pass (4 + AFC Presents Shows): $50, Adults $45 Concession Groups (6+) $50
Bookings: BASS on 131 246 or online at www.bass.net.au

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