Former TV entertainer Michael Barrymore (pictured) will return to the stage next month to play Spike Milligan in Surviving Spike, a new drama about the late Goon Show comedian, which premieres at the Theatre Royal Windsor where its limited season runs from 5 to 16 February 2008.

Subtitled “The Untold Story of a Comic Genius”, the new play by Richard Harris tells the story of Milligan’s personal life through the eyes of Norma Farnes, who was his agent, manager and confidante for 36 years. Promotional material for Surviving Spike promises that it will reveal “the tormented character that hid behind the public façade”. A comedian, writer, musician, poet and playwright, Milligan was best known as the creator and principal writer of long-running radio sketch comedy The Goon Show. He suffered a lifetime of mental illness and died from liver disease in February 2002.

In Surviving Spike, Norma Farnes is played by Jill Halfpenny, the former EastEnders star and Strictly Come Dancing victor whose other stage credits include Uncle Vanya at Birmingham Rep and Chicago in the West End.

Born Michael Parker, Michael Barrymore was inspired to change his name after reading a biography of the famous American acting dynasty. In the 1980s and 1990s, after years of stage variety, Barrymore rose to become one of the most powerful figures in British TV entertainment, performing in and presenting myriad series such as New Faces, Strike It Lucky, Kids Say the Funniest Things and the eponymous Michael Barrymore Show.

Controversy first came in 1995 when Barrymore announced that he was homosexual, despite being married for nearly 20 years. Over the next several years, he continued to receive a rough ride in the tabloid press for perceived drunken and unruly bad behaviour. The situation culminated in March 2001 when a man, Stuart Lubbock, was found dead in the pool of Barrymore's Essex home after an impromptu late night party. In 2003, Barrymore pulled out of a West End comedy season after just three performances and emigrated to New Zealand.

The entertainer had a comeback in 2006 after appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, in which he came runner-up to “fake” celebrity winner Chantelle Houghton, and taking the title role in a regional tour of Scrooge (See News, 7 Jun 2006), produced by Bill Kenwright, who is also behind Surviving Spike. Last year, Barrymore was arrested in connection with the Stuart Lubbock incident six years earlier but was released without charge due to lack of evidence.

- by Terri Paddock