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Wild flights of lunacy belong to comedy legend

PUBLISHED: 09:37 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 25 August 2010

IN adapting Spike Milligan s bestselling war memoirs, the producers of Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall faced an enormous challenge from the outset - the lack of the great man himself, writes Mark Campbell. Here, Sholto Morgan (marvellous name) had

IN adapting Spike Milligan's bestselling war memoirs, the producers of Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall faced an enormous challenge from the outset - the lack of the great man himself, writes Mark Campbell.

Here, Sholto Morgan (marvellous name) had a damn good crack at being Terence Milligan of the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery. But for me he didn't quite capture the comic's wild flights of lunacy.

That's not to say he wasn't excellent. He was, and played jazz trumpet brilliantly.

Perhaps what was missing was a little improvisation in the delivery, a bit more audience participation.

But that's only a minor quibble when you realise how much work has gone into adapting the first four volumes of Spike's memoirs into such a slick production.

Aptly, it was performed recently at The Churchill theatre in Bromley.

Ben Power and Tim Carroll's script took the form of a wartime dance concert filled with music, sketches and real-life incidents, all taken directly from the books.

It was billed as 'an entertainment', rather than a memoir. And like the volumes it's based on, it was often rambling and episodic, with more than a hint of Goonery.

But it gave a very good flavour of the boredom, the fear and, above all, the over-riding camaraderie of these newly drafted soldiers.

Sholto shared the stage with Dominic Gerrard, William Findlay, David Morley Hale and Matthew Devereaux. This was a proper ensemble cast, each one a talented actor, comedian, singer and musician. I lost count of the different instruments they all turned their hands to.

Matt Devereaux perfectly captured the gormless officer who introduces Spike's band, with David Morley Hale a morose private Kidgell who vied with Sholto for the evening's drollest jokes.

There was plenty of great music on offer if the quickfire gags didn't appeal - audience reaction on opening night was muted - and rather wonderfully every last note was played live.

From Lili Marlène to Pennies from Heaven, via 'the bloody awful' Warsaw Concerto, this show was powered by its music as much as its performances. We even had a sublime opera interlude of 'The Ballad of Tommy Trinder', a new arrangement to lyrics by Harry Edgington, Spike's wartime friend.

Slapstick buffoonery and dreadful puns aside, this was a show that remembered a group of real men thrown together in terrible adversity, but who somehow rose above it with their indomitable British humour.

Spike would've been proud.

Mark Campbell

l The next production at the Churchill Theatre is Lord Arthur Savile's Crime by Oscar Wilde, from 1-6 February. Tickets: 0844 8717620.

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