City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Surviving Spike

By Lorraine McCann - Posted on 10 August 2008

Show details
Assembly Rooms
Bill Kenwright Productions
Running time: 
Richard Baron (director), Richard Harris (writer, based on Norma Farnes' book)
Jill Halfpenny (Norma Farnes), Michael Barrymore (Spike Milligan)

Of all the constituencies who might find themselves drawn to this production, it is undoubtedly the smallest who will be best-served. Michael Barrymore fans will not see much of the manic energy for which they presumably fell way back in his 1980s heyday; Spike Milligan fans will not see much of the zany, left-field originality that characterised the best of the former Goon’s career; but fans of former Strictly Come Dancing star Jill Halfpenny will have no trouble spotting the sparky Northern lass who can turn on a sixpence whilst flashing a winning smile, thank you very much.

Flanked on either side by pages from Milligan’s Leonardo-ish sketchbooks, the set is cleverly compartmentalised to show what working in the great man’s home was like. There is the bedroom to which he retired to sulk or write or simply sleep for a whole day at a time, there is the balcony where he fed the birds, there is the office from where his real-life PA-manager Norma Farnes ran his business affairs. And to one side, separate and yet clearly just biding its time, is the hospital bed to which he would resign himself for electro-convulsive therapy, or, finally, to die.

Barrymore, to his credit, is not attempting an impersonation – but that doesn’t mean that this play wouldn’t have been improved by casting someone who would have. As it is, the man seems flat and over-rehearsed, as if, like many a performer who comes into acting from other fields, he has over-estimated the importance of learning his lines and not standing in the wrong place at the expense of actually breathing life into each performance.

Jill Halfpenny, on the other hand, is a treat to watch. By turns feisty, vulnerable, dogged, despairing, optimistic, and grief-stricken, she shows in more ways than one that it is indeed possible to survive this Spike.

Times: Aug 3-25 at 16:15 (no show Aug 11)