Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s new comedy Spike plays Cardiff’s New Theatre this week. Set in 1950s the play explores the origins of Goon mania as men, women and children across the country scramble to get their ear to a wireless for another instalment of The Goon Show. Recalling the trials and triumphs of what would become ground breaking and classic comedy, the play also gives an insight into the creativity of Spike Milligan and the relationship he had with his fellow Goons, Sellers and Secombe.
The play stars Robert Wilfort as Spike Milligan, Patrick Warner as Peter Sellers and Jeremy Lloyd as Wales’ own Harry Secombe.
In the second part of our interview with Jeremy, the actor discusses his theatre career and gives further insight into recreating The Goons on stage with Andy Howells.
You’re playing a person, playing several characters such as Neddie Seagoon – how important is it to get that right?
It’s taken a lot of listening and a lot of watching. In later series of The Goon Show, although he played various versions of Neddie Seagoon, Harry was the central focal point and Spike and Peter did a myriad of different voices and impressions around him. Patrick Warner plays Peter Sellers doing impressions of other comedians from the time, that is most confusing! Harry is more stand and deliver if I may put it bluntly. He did a shaving routine, that’s what started him off at The Windmill Theatre along with bits of singing, of which I get to do in the show., which is lovely as Robert Wilfort as Spike shuts me up!
Although I’ve never played a real person before, you really end up caring about the person you’re playing. I’ve spent a lot of time with Harry over the last six months from reading his biographies to listening to interviews.
Do you all find yourselves slipping into a myriad of Goon style voices (such as Bluebottle, Colonel Chinstrap, Neddie) when you’re not on stage?
Yes, we do! There’s a lovely scene in the beginning of the show when we’re in the Grafton Arms and we are constantly riffing, joke after joke and then you build on it and you go “that wasn’t quite right, here is the next punchline, but yeah, wouldn’t it be funny if we ended it like this?” Similarly, one of the things I love about a show is going for a post-show drink, de-briefing the show and how it went, we do end up sparring with each other, it does feel like we’re vaguely creating something in a Goon-esque style!
How did you get into acting?
I’m from Somerset and went to school in a place called Wells where I was a Cathedral Chorister (like Harry) and did loads of singing as a kid. My brother was also a chorister many years ago and met Harry around 1996! We have a picture in our house of which my parents would always say, “Here’s the picture of Edward and Harry” and I never knew who this old man was. When this audition came through, I was sent a picture of Harry and then I realised, “I’ve got a picture of him in my house!” So, I grew up with a picture of Harry Secombe in my house and didn’t know it was him!
We used to do a school musical, but one year we ran out of budget, and had to do a play instead. I just fell in love with the idea of making an audience feel something just by using words rather than music. Then I just chased plays, I went to drama school and graduated around 10 years ago. I’ve been very lucky, I’m friends with a lot of Mischief Theatre Company who came up with The Play That Goes Wrong. I was doing a play at Edinburgh Fringe Festival around 2015 and a couple of them came to see it. They’d just written this new play which at the time was called Crooks and they said, “Do you want to workshop it with us?” and I said, “Yes, please!” Six months later, it became The Comedy about a Bank Robbery, and I did two years at The Criterion Theatre with it which was an amazing experience.
The Goon Show legacy continues through CD’s, radio broadcasts etc – what do you hope people will take away from Spike?
I had a friend come and see it who knew nothing about The Goons. The first thing he said to me was, “I can’t wait to go home and do some Googling”. I like to ignite that interest to learn about something. You don’t have to know anything about The Goons to enjoy the show. You can put in their place any comedy troupe that you like. Most people will have seen Monty Python, Dad’s Army, Allo, Allo or Are You Being Served? All those shows would have referenced The Goons as a starting point and paved the way for irreverent humour. Its also a fascinating time, we’re 8 years after World War II and watching a country rediscover itself from a comedy point of view!
You’re playing Cardiff’s New Theatre. What’s your Welsh accent like for Harry?
Well, I sing a bit! I live with a Welsh girl, and I previously lived with a Welsh guy and got his mum to record the National Anthem for me, of which I’ve heard many times watching the rugby. Its s one of those things you do as an actor to try and morph into the person you become. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and have had a wonderful time being Harry Secombe!
- Spike plays Cardiff’s New Theatre from Tuesday – Saturday 22-26 November. For ticket availability visit the New Theatre’s website.