The Theatreguide.London Review
Leicester Square Theatre Spring 2011
Spike Milligan's comic novel imagines the 1922 border between Ireland's north and south being drawn right through a tiny village, so that drinks are cheaper at one end of the bar than the other and bodies being taken from funeral to grave have to detour for a passport photo.
In true Milliganesque fashion that premise, rich in comic potential as it is, is just the taking-off point for such flights of imagination as a midget's widow, a singing Chinese policeman, a ne'er-do-well who keeps complaining to the author about the legs that have been written for him, and a Scout jamboree featuring a performance of Julius Caesar, and for gags like (brace yourself) 'Be silent when speaking to an officer!' and 'The Lord will provide, but to date He's behind in His payments.'
When Milligan isn't allowing himself and us the pleasure of his various digressions, he eventually finds a plot of sorts in two bumbling IRA men who attempt to smuggle explosives across the border in a coffin at the same time the village priest is overseeing the rescuing of the recently departed from the ignominy of Protestant graves.
Vincent Higgins' stage adaptation for Northern Ireland's Big Telly Theatre Company adds the further comic complication of casting it for six actors, most of whom double and sextuple roles, frequently having to play scenes with themselves when they're not also being the back-up band.
This production comes to London after a long tour (to venues such as The Old Courthouse in Antrim and St. Dominic's Grammar School For Girls in Belfast), and at the preview performance I attended some in the cast seemed to have lost the energy a fragile trifle like this requires.
At its best, this is all thoroughly silly, thoroughly inconsequential and thoroughly enjoyable, but also thoroughly fringe-level, and with some of the snap and polish fading it has patches that don't quite rise even to that.
If director Zoe Seaton can recharge everyone's batteries for the London run, and if it regains throughout the level of comic absurdity it has at its best moments, Puckoon will delight those who are already Milligan fans and create new ones.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review.