Sunday, 13 March 2011

"I'm a hero wid coward's legs"

On Wednesday we trouped off to the Leicester Square Theatre to see the new stage adaptation of Spike Milligan's Puckoon.

This has always been a favourite book of mine. I was a great fan of the mad Mr Milligan from an early age - I loved his poetry collection A Little Pot-Boiler, his war memoirs (Hitler - My Part in his Downfall et al) and his truly off-the-wall comedy series Q (especially Q8 in 1978).

But Puckoon was something else! Spike's first (and only) novel, it is a madcap account of the chaos that ensues in a small Irish village - where the church clock has been stuck at twenty past four for ever, so at least it's right twice a day! - during the partition in 1924, when the new border between North and South cuts right through the community.

In the ensuing anarchy, Mr Milligan's bizarre collection of characters - Father Rudden, Foggerty, Rafferty, Mrs O'Toole, Dr Goldstein, Sgt. McGillikuddie and the rest - exercise what little remains of their wits in a series of plots to outfox the incompetent border patrols.

In this stage version, the mass of characters is played brilliantly by a cast of only six actors, whose quck-change transformations between roles is hilarious. Their obvious glee in playing up to the shambolic feel of the story - "bickering" over whose turn it is to play what character, leaving the narrator alone on stage on occasions having to play two roles, the nods to the audience - is a joy to behold.

Increasingly tangled webs unfold - booze is now thirty percent cheaper in the corner of the pub that is now in the North so everyone is crowded into a two-foot square space, the church is separated from its own graveyard so burials have to be clandestinely organised, and the IRA has spotted an opportunity to smuggle bombs - and throughout it all our lead protagonist Dan Milligan tries to avoid trouble, work, and everything else (including a runaway black panther from the local circus)...
"With a roof over his head he had ceased to work, living off his pension and his wits, both hopelessly inadequate."

"The Lord said: 'Six days shalt thou labour and on the seventh thou shalt rest.' He hadn't reckoned wid the unions. Forty-eight hours a week shalt thou labour and on the seventh thou shalt get double time. Ha. It was more profitable to be in the unions.

This is a show that appeals on many levels. People familiar with the story of Puckoon (like me) will be delighted at the way its anarchic qualities are brought to the stage; people not so familiar with it will nonetheless have a great and very entertaining night out; and the visual humour of the show means that even kids can enjoy it.

I highly recommend this show (currently only on a short run in Leicester Square) wherever it pops up!

Big Telly Theatre Company's Puckoon website

If you have never read the book, Puckoon is available on Amazon


  1. It sounds bizarre and fascinating - I knew nothing about this … don't think I'll have time to see it right now but I'll keep an eye out for any future returns. x

  2. It is great fun - catch it if you can! Jx


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