15 August 2008 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews He was one of the great eccentrics of British comedy, his humour coming from a place that few understood, and no one would seek to copy. But thatís enough about Michael Barrymore. This is a play about the turbulent life of Spike Milligan, genius comic writer, womanizer, manic depressive and much-loved oddball.
, adapted for the stage by Surviving Spike Richard Harris, tells of Milliganís later life through the eyes of his manager and confidante Norma Farnes (ex-EastEnder Jill Halfpenny) with whom he worked closely for 36 years and who stabilized and organized his life. Milligan suffered from bipolar depression and we see him flit back and forth between the generous, gentle and creative side of his character and the manic, argumentative and juvenile other. Michael Barrymore seems to possess the cuddly Spike more comfortably than the aggressive, seemingly unwilling to turn the audience against him in any way.
In the first half, Barrymore seems slightly awkward, but soon hits his stride when he re-enacts some of Spikeís stand-up, conducting the audience with admirable confidence. From here onwards he begins to shine, and displays, with touching sentiment, Milliganís slow decline. The uncomfortable coincidence of character that links Spike and Mike lies in their mutual quest for validation through humour, and Barrymoreís clear empathy for the role he portrays is abundantly evident.
Jill Halfpenny who really owns this show. With her smooth Yorkshire drawl, she narrates with perfect ease and evokes an enormous sense of resilience which Farns must have possessed when coping with her bossís mood swings. The two leads work together well, showcasing their platonic love and contrasting frustrations in equal measure.
Structurally, there is perhaps too much business here and intimate scenes between the two leads only last a few moments before expositional narrative resumes. However, although not enough emphasis is placed on Milliganís work, this is a commendable examination of an endlessly fascinating figure. Barrymore excels in parts but doesnít quite capture the torment and eccentricities Milligan is so famous for.
- Ellie White
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