As previously tipped, Roy Smiles’ new play about late comedian Spike Milligan and his ‘Goons’ will transfer to the West End in the new year. Premiered at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse in October (See News, 22 Sep 2004), Ying Tong - A Walk with the Goons will open at London’s New Ambassadors Theatre on 14 February 2005 (previews from 10 February).

Under pressure to write the Goon show to end all Goon shows, Spike Milligan is planning his escape from a mental institution dressed only in his pyjamas. After applying to the British Museum to get his marbles back, he starts to lose his grip on reality and threatens to kill Eccles, the most famous Goon character. Will his partners in Goon, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, be able to stop him?

Ying Tong is an exploration inside the mind and twisted logic of Milligan, the comic genius who died in 2002. It examines the anguish of Milligan’s lifetime fight against mental illness, alongside sketches that celebrate the spirit and anarchy of the classic 1950s radio comedy series, The Goon Show. In Goon-style extracts, favourite characters - amongst them super-stupid Eccles, gullible Seagoon, boy scout Blue Bottle and flatulent BloodNok - appear, in stark contrast to the increasingly poignant episodes of Milligan, alone with his demons, against the backdrop of the psychiatric hospital.

James Clyde (After Mrs Rochester) plays Milligan with Jeremy Child as BBC announcer Wallace Greenslade and, as his fellow Goons Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, Christian Patterson and Peter Temple.

Ying Tong is the first play in Roy SmilesDead Comedians’ trilogy. The remaining two parts are The Lad Himself (about Tony Hancock) and The Bitter End (about Groucho Marx/Lenny Bruce). Originally a comedian and actor, Smiles recently completed a playwriting attachment to the National Theatre Studio.

The play is directed by Michael Kingsbury, who also directed Round the Horne...Revisited, a tribute to the 1960s radio serial, which continues to run at The Venue in the West End, with a second production on a nationwide tour. Ying Tong is designed by Peter McKintosh, with music by Richard Taylor, lighting by Tony Simpson and sound by Mic Pool. It’s presented in the West End by Michael Codron, National Angels Ltd and Ambassador Theatre Group in association with Incidental Colman, Mick Perrin Productions and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Currently at the New Ambassadors, the Award-nominated Watermill Theatre revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which moved house from the West End’s Trafalgar Studios in October, will finish at the end of its current booking period on 15 January 2005. In the 2004/2005 Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, the show has received nominations for Best Musical Revival, Best Ensemble Performance and, for Karen Mann who plays Mrs Lovett, Best Actress in a Musical (click here to vote now).

- by Terri Paddock