Sunday, 24 June 2007

June 24, 2007

Ying Tong by Roy Smiles, by Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When:  Playhouse, Mon & Tues 6.30pm, Wed to Fri 8pm, Sat 8.30pm, June 24 to July 23, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 24, 2007

Fall over yourself to see Ying Tong whether you are a Goons aficionado or not. 

Roy Smiles play, directed by Richard Cottrell, is a clever, funny and often poignant portrayal of Spike Milligan’s fraught relationship to The Goons and his fragile grasp on sanity as he grappled with manic-depression in an era that did not understand it.

Milligan (Geoff Kelso) was the writer of most of The Goon Show, a radio show performed on the BBC from 1951 to 1960. His scripts combined ludicrous and surreal plots with a cast of peculiar comic characters, dialogue riddled with puns and silly sound effects.

Smiles deftly recreates the rambling nonsense of The Goons. “There’ll never be gibberish like it,” said Milligan. Smiles is true to the non-linear narrative of the radio show but tells Milligan’s story through flashbacks, delusions and dream sequences.

The play is “a journey to the centre of Milligan’s brain” and is seen through Milligan’s delusional memories and ravings during his periods of hospitalisation in a psychiatric ward (Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell). Kelso as Milligan perches, like a frightened bird, under a blanket on a hospital bed, conjuring memories. “Not another flashback,” he quips.

Ying Tong derives from “Ying-tong-iddle-i-po”, a Goons’ nonsense song. The play reproduces snatches of live radio recordings and snapshots of Milligan with Harry Secombe (David James), Peter Sellers (Jonathan Biggins) and Wallace Greenslade (Tony Harvey). We meet Eccles, Bluebottle, Seagoon, Major Bloodnok, Minnie Bannister and Henry Crun, Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty.

Kelso is perfectly cast as Milligan; his own past stand-up comedy channelled The Goons’ diversions and crazed content. He allows us into the impenetrable chaos of Milligan’s dysfunctional mind, erratic moods and humour.

Biggins depicts impeccably the parade of characters played by Sellers and his thoroughly egotistical personality. His Dr. Strangelove, who appears as Milligan’s imaginary psychiatrist, is a cunning blend of visual, verbal and character gags.

James as Secombe captures the soaring notes and vocal vibrato of the Welsh tenor. Secombe was genial, talented and balanced; a still point amidst Milligan and Sellers’ chaos. Harvey plays Greenslade with a wry, almost military British dignity and the trio of grinning leprechauns (Harvey, James, Biggins) brought the house down.

Ying Tong is achingly funny, desperately sad and a joyful reminder of the comic talents that changed the course of comedy and blazed a trail for Monty Python and others.

By Kate Herbert

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