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The Goons come to Stratford

Second helping of Goons: From left, Phil Hemming, Mark Earby, Richard Usher and Stephan Bessant
Second helping of Goons: From left, Phil Hemming, Mark Earby, Richard Usher and Stephan Bessant

Why on earth would anyone resurrect a couple of 60-year-old scripts from a defunct radio show, that most people are too young to remember?

It’s a question Herald arts put to the producer Dave Freak, who is bringing a stage production, The Goon Show by the Birmingham Comedy Festival and Fred Theatre, to the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford.

“The Goons are a cornerstone of British comedy. You can see their influence, their spirit, in Monty Python, through to The Mighty Boosh, and stand-up comedians like Simon Munnery and Paul Foot,” reasons Dave.

So how did the production come about?

“It was something I’d been considering for some time,” says Dave. “I was surprised that, despite there being stage productions based on many other classic comedy series, and various shows based on Spike Milligan’s work, there’d never been a proper stage production of The Goon Show –which is the most influential British comedy radio series of all time. In 2014, we did two of performances as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival that continued from page 17 completely sold out. We had people travelling from right across the UK, and the response was incredible – so positive,” explains Dave.

“Back then we did The Canal and The Phantom Head Shaver episodes. This time around we’re doing two more Spike Milligan scripts: The House Of Teeth and The Jet-Propelled Guided NAAFI – which we’re premiering at The Bear Pit Theatre.”

What drew you to doing the Goons?

“I remember hearing the repeats on the radio as a kid, and my dad used to occasionally do Eccles and Bluebottle voices,” recalls Dave. “I also used to love – and still do – Peter Sellers’ early films: I’m All Right Jack, The Ladykillers, The Mouse That Roared, The Smallest Show On Earth. There was also Michael Bentine’s occasional appearances and Milligan’s Q stuff, which seemed so archaic, the Yong Tong Song...”

Dave continues: “It’s interesting too that for scripts written 60 years ago, some things haven’t changed. In The Jet-Propelled Guided NAAFI, the story starts with a debate on a bumbling Government, wasting money.”

How did you get the scripts?

Dave: “There are over 200 episodes of The Goons, so selecting just two scripts took a while, but in the end I opted for The House Of Teeth and The Jet Propelled-Guided NAAFI as they were both wholly written by Milligan, and both came from 1955/1956 series six, so seemed nice companion pieces.”

How have you staged the production?

“The show is performed as a live radio broadcast,” explains Dave. “The four actors will have their scripts, but the performances are dramatic, there’s real energy there.

“Listening to the original broadcasts, you get the impression there was more going on than you could hear, so we’ve added visual elements too which emphasise the humour and adventure. We’ll also be doing many of the sound-effects live, and have a live jazz band – which was an important, and often overlooked, element to the series. “Our cast are brilliant. Richard and Mark have perfected all the voices – Crun, Minnie, Eccles, Bluebottle, Moriarty – and are genuine lifelong super-fans. Listening to them is like listening to Milligan and Sellers."

Dave Continues: “Everyone involved is too young to have experienced The Goons first time around, but we’ve all been drawn to them growing up.”

What do you hope to achieve with the production?

Dave: “Our aim is to really capture the spirit of the Goons’ broadcasts – the lunacy, the energy and craziness of those original adventures.”

The Goon Show, directed by Robert Ball, is on at the Bear Pit Theatre on 8th, 9th and 10th February at 7.30pm (with an additional 2.30pm performance on 9th). Tickets from £12, call the box office on 01789 403416.

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