PHOTOS CLICK TO ENLARGE
Some famously funny Spike lines, including some that can be found in his hilarious novel Puckoon ...
"A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree."
"And God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected."
"Are you going to come quietly, or do I have to use earplugs?"
"Contraceptives should be used on all conceivable occasions."
"For ten years Caesar ruled with an iron hand. Then with a wooden foot, and finally with a piece of string."
"How long was I in the army? Five foot eleven."
"I can speak Esperanto like a native."
"I have the body of an eighteen year old. I keep it in the fridge."
"I spent many years laughing at Harry Secombe's singing until somebody told me that it wasn't a joke."
"Is there anything worn under the kilt? No, it's all in perfect working order."
"I was born in India. I had to be - my mother was there."
"Money can't buy friends, but you get a better class of enemy."
"My Father had a profound influence on me, he was a lunatic."
“A man can’t have everything - I mean, where would he put it?”
The hit stage show of Puckoon was commissioned and first produced by Northern Ireland’s longest-established theatre producer Big Telly Theatre Company. The show is adapted by the company from the book by Spike Milligan and a dramatisation by Vincent Higgins, features music and songs by Paul Boyd, and is directed by Zoë Seaton.
The initial 20-venue Irish tour ran from January – March 2009 and played to packed houses, with many shows sold out well in advance, culminating in a week of performances in Dublin.
The 2011 tour, produced again by Big Telly, opened in February and culminated in a three week engagement in London’s West End at Leicester Square Theatre.
The 2016 tour saw the show reopen in Dublin in April before embarking on a tour across Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.
Puckoon is a comic novel by Spike Milligan, first published in 1963. It was his first full-length novel, and only major fictional work.
Set in 1924, it details the troubles brought to the fictional Irish village of Puckoon by the Partition of Ireland: the new border, due to the incompetence of the Boundary Commission, passes directly through the village, with most of the village remaining in independent Ireland, but with a significant portion in Northern Ireland.
The protagonist of the novel is the feckless Dan Milligan, a man so lazy that the author is obliged to take direct action to prevent him spending the entire novel lounging about at home; thus alerted to his status as a fictional character, Dan frequently breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the writer about the trouble he's been put to.
PUCKOON: THE PLAY
Terence Alan Patrick Seán Milligan KBE (16 April 1918 – 26 February 2002), known as Spike Milligan, was an Irish comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright and actor; the majority of his working life was spent in the United Kingdom.
Milligan was the co-creator, main writer and a principal cast member of The Goon Show, performing a range of roles including the popular Eccles. Milligan wrote and/or edited many books, including Puckoon and his six-volume autobiographical account of his time serving during the Second World War, beginning with Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall. He is also noted as a popular writer of comical verse, much of his poetry was written for children, including Silly Verse for Kids (1959).
After enormous success with the ground-breaking British radio programme, The Goon Show, Milligan translated this success to television with Q5, a surreal sketch show which is credited as a major influence on the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
PUCKOON: THE BOOK
2016 - UK and Ireland Tour
photos by Ste Murray
"Big Telly’s stage adaptation of Puckoon is certainly a very funny and zany treat. The play stays true to the essence of Spike Milligan’s comic novel with its surreal and chaotic humour, whilst bringing it to life on stage.
Portstewart based Big Telly Theatre Company certainly doesn’t shy away from taking on a production that has only six actors playing 40 odd different characters and Puckoon sees the actors playing several parts each (some even in the one scene). This all adds to the rambunctious nature of the production, but it doesn’t stop there, they all also have to play the music in the band and move the props themselves. The music, which is very appropriate is by the talented Paul Boyd who also plays the part of The Writer on stage.
Based on the 1962 book by Spike Milligan the play is set in 1922 at the time of partition in Ireland. The Border Commission, in a rush to get to the pub before it closes, has drawn the border straight through the tiny Irish village of Puckoon. This inadvertently leads to various anomalies, like part of the bar being in Ulster and having cheaper beer and Catholics ending up buried on the wrong side of the new border. What ensues is a riotous series of situations based loosely around two bungling IRA men trying to smuggle arms in a coffin while the bodies are brought back to their own side of the border.
The set is simple with the few props cleverly reused in different ways. Paul Boyd narrates and holds the play together from behind his keyboard. Paddy Jenkins is a pleasure to watch as the work-shy Dan Milligan, and Patrick O’Reilly, Keith Singleton, John O Mahoney and Giles Stoakley all give wonderfully funny and impressive multi-character performances.
If you know nothing about Spike Milligan or Puckoon, don’t worry, this is a hilarious, frantic and chaotic play that will have you laughing throughout. But if you, like me, read Puckoon a very long time ago and have precious memories of it, then don’t worry either, for this production by Big Telly Theatre Company captures the comic genius of Spike’s book and brings it all crazily to life. Now, where is that old copy of Puckoon…"
ALAN IN BELFAST
"Somewhere north east of Sligo lies the sleepy village of Puckoon with three policemen, a graveyard, a pub and a host of eccentric madcap characters. It’s the location for Spike Milligan’s comic novel that was dramatised after his death by Vincent Higgins and performed by Big Telly Theatre Company. Their revival of the show is currently touring Britain and Ireland.
Paul Boyd (“The Writer”) superbly anchors the absurd show from behind a piano in the corner of the stage. The rest of the cast play tin whistles, ukuleles, guitars, drums, and sing along in-between nipping across the stage to act out scenes.
Paddy Jenkins plays Dan Milligan, a fictional fool who quickly reveals that the normal rules of theatre have been suspended – never mind the fourth wall broken – and argues back and forth about his role with The Writer. I’ve never seen a show with as many props, non sequiturs and raised eyebrows.
Patrick J O’Reilly and Keith Singleton act like a pair of eejits who switch genders and characters as if someone was snapping at a button on their remote control. They frustrate The Writer’s attempts to move the story on and are deservedly rewarded with some of the heartiest laughs of the night. Keith Singleton’s portrayal of an Ulster Unionist with loose dentures could be spun off into a whole show of its own. John O Mahony and Giles Stoakley complete the cast.
Having set up the quirky world of Puckoon, we reach the point when life in the village changes for ever. The Ulster Boundary Commission decide that the border will be somewhat arbitrarily drawn through the middle of the community, dividing the church from its graveyard. Add a border post, officious upholders of rules and bomb smugglers and the pandemonium unravels.
Lighting designer Kevin Smith has cunningly adapted some furniture props so beams of light illuminate actors’ faces from below. Along with the clouds of fog that eerily linger above the cast’s heads, the stained glass window effect adds to the set without cluttering the stage.
The randomness of Milligan’s writings is retained in the script, and the humour is simultaneously visual, physical and oral. And this is where Puckoon succeeds and The 39 Steps falters. Acting out a Hitchcock film on stage with only three actors is comical to watch, but Puckoon is imaginative in so many other dimensions.
While the original novel was written while in Australia, Puckoon appositely satirises Irish sensibilities about identity and state interference. The entertainment is novel, the performances full tilt, and the storyline as hard to unravel as Spike Milligan’s mind. Director Zoë Seaton and musical director/actor Paul Boyd have created a comical gem"
Big Telly Theatre Company’s smash hit stage production Spike Milligan’s Puckoon was first produced on an extensive national tour of Ireland in 2009. A second tour of Ireland in 2011 ended in a hugely successful run at Leicester Square Theatre in London's West End, and the show undertook a final UK-wide national tour in 2016
Big Telly is Northern Ireland’s longest-established independent theatre producer and the company worked closely with Spike’s own Spike Milligan Productions to create this unique theatrical event which combines comedy, lunacy, and original music and songs.
Spike Milligan’s Puckoon tells the hilarious story of what happens to a rural community in Ireland when the Ulster Boundary Commission decides that the Irish border will go straight through the middle of their town. With the church separated from its own graveyard and drink now thirty percent cheaper in one corner of the pub, life in the newly divided village will never be the same again.
This critically acclaimed stage production was adapted by the company from the book by Spike Milligan and a dramatisation by Vincent Higgins, featuring music and songs by Paul Boyd, and directed by Zoë Seaton.
CULTURE HUB MAGAZINE
"From the word go Big Telly Theatre Company's production of Puckoon is an electric, exhausting, exciting and engaging piece of theatre , if you can even summarise it under such a narrow term as simply a ‘theatre’ piece. The actors in this production, double, triple and quadruple their roles, transforming themselves into dancers, musicians, choir members, set technicians and many more. Of course, anyone familiar with Spike Milligan knows to expect an absurd two hours of relentlessly demanding yet uproarious stage time, similarly those who aren’t so familiar with his work are in for the show of their lives.
Puckoon opens with the narrator, come writer, come lead musician played by Paul Boyd setting the scene for us: Ireland in 1922, during the time of the border partition, the small town of Puckoon is about to be torn apart, quite literally, by the division of Ireland. Throw in a work shy alcoholic protagonist, a Chinese Gardi officer, a pub with 3ft in the North and the rest in the South, a corrupt Priest and two daft IRA members and you have yourself a recipe for Milligan inspired chaos. We are introduced to such a broad range of characters within the opening minutes of the show that it sets the bar for the hectic and bonkers nature of what’s to come. The cast gel together with such unity it’s obvious that this piece has been in production for some time. With Northern Irish gems such as Paddy Jenkins playing the clumsy and lazy protagonist Dan Milligan, whose life is controlled by the actions of The Writer, to the multi character performances from Keith Singleton, Patrick O’Reilly, Giles Stoakley and John O Mahoney Puckoon’s cast a collection of the finest talents NI has to offer.
As an introduction to Milligan, it’s a fantastic way to dip your toe into his absurdist world. The show is a chaotic experience from start to finish. Working across the board the cast never once let the momentum of the piece relax, something essential in such a fast paced show as it allows the audience to be gripped and fully enthralled in the ever complicated story. Each scene seems to somehow stumble into the next, each costume change, set change, musical accompaniment, dance routine all carried out by the exposed cast members acts a seamless and smooth counterpart to the constructed onstage madness. You can’t help at times, but to be on the edge of your seat throughout the performance, whilst the actors never allow their energy to drop, it’s hard not to see that it must be an exhausting production to pull off. From acrobatic stunts to musical numbers involving 4 costume changes in as many minutes, per cast member, you can’t help but be as anxious as you are impressed throughout this eclectic offering.
Whether you’re an avid Milligan fan, or a complete novice to his work, this production is a must see if not least for the hilarious break down of the 4th wall which allows the audience to feel as much a part of the show as the cast themselves. Be ready to laugh until your cheeks are sore!"
"It is easy see why this rumbustious romp of a show has been a huge hit barnstorming around Ireland. The wildly talented company of six actor-musicians attack Spike Milligan’s absurd comic novel with inspired physical gusto, all of them playing several instruments and roles, often hopping to and fro from one to the other. At one point pianist Paul Boyd plays two characters simultaneously and has a conversation with himself!
Boyd as musical director, narrator and music hall style chairman battles to referee the anarchic mayhem as this tall tale of the small village of Puckoon that falls foul of the boundary commission during the partition of Ireland in 1922 unravels. Due to an administrative glitch the new border runs right through their sleepy community, separating the church from its graveyard and even cutting the pub in two. Whatsmore, beer is thirty percent cheaper at the Republican end of the bar!
Add to this heady mix the IRA smuggling arms, a bit of body snatching and a plethora of eccentric comic characters and you have the surreal and whacky world of ‘Puckoon’”
"There was a full second's pause of perplexed silence at the end of ‘Puckoon’ before the Belfast Waterfront audience burst into rapturous applause. That was the tenor of the whole show: constantly caught between confusion and delight. The band of multi-talented actors and musicians took the audience on a surreal rampage, loosely based on the Spike Milligan novel. The show's subtitle is 'a simple tale of Irish folk bordering on the ridiculous', but ‘Puckoon’, which is dramatised by Vincent Higgins, doesn't just border on the ridiculous. It takes the concept, turns it upside down, ties a silly hat on it and gives it a kick up the arse for good measure.
It's not just silly slapstick though. There's plenty of crackling wit, maudlin philosophising and sheer theatrical anarchy in there too. The action is set in Ireland, June 1922, and the Ulster Boundary Commission has drawn the new border right through the little town of Puckoon. The graveyard has been sliced in half and the locals left huddled in the corner of a pub, where the drink is now 30% cheaper. A stand-off develops in the graveyard, where deceased inhabitants now require an Irish passport, renewed annually, for the duration of their stay.
The central figure, around whom the craziness revolves, is feckless layabout Dan Milligan (Jack Walsh). He's accompanied by a bewildering range of small-town characters – including Dr Sean Goldstein, Mrs O'Toole, Sergeant MacGillikudie, Blind George, Croucher and Murphy, whose gormless face is 'a replica of the King Edward potatoes he grows'. All characters are brought to life by the 6-strong cast, who throw hats, shirts, overcoats and even facial expressions (from dopey to cunning) on and off at lightning speed as they shift between personas. There's scant regard for political correctness, especially when it comes to the trainee Chinese policeman (best not ask).
Part of the delirious chaos stems from the fact that this is a play which refuses to behave itself and just be a play. Just as in Milligan's novel, the narrator – known here as The Writer - occasionally abandons his authorial role to engage in discussion with Dan about the state of his legs, which Dan claims haven't been written very well. He'd be happier with a better-scripted pair. This is carried off with such great humour that it doesn't come across as self-consciously knowing or clever-clever. What really adds another dimension to ‘Puckoon’, though, is the music. Again showing enormous versatility, the actors also turn out to be dab hands at the ukelele, flute, tin whistle, accordion, harmonica and drums – sometimes simultaneously.
At the piano, Paul Boyd (aka The Writer), in an outsized, floppy wine-coloured bow-tie, holds it all together – just about. He struggles manfully to keep the play afloat, at one point sighing, 'you don't get this at the Lighthouse Family' [who were playing next door, Ed.] An observation which gets a roar of laughter from the audience. Somewhere towards the end, Dan Milligan asks, 'what's this play all about anyway, with all these people coming and going?' There is no answer to that question, but you're laughing so much that you don't care"
THE BIG LIST
"Flat-out anarchy is the order of the evening in the Big Telly Theatre Company's adaptation of Spike Milligan's comically masterful Puckoon, a crazy concoction of music, mimicry, mixed messages and multiple-character playing that constantly and hilariously satirises people, politics, professions and the written word. It strictly adheres to the central theme in the work of Milligan and Big Telly: don't ever try to make sense of them, because, believe me, you won't.
The key to enjoying this marriage of the legendary comedian and the Portstewart-based dramatists - a perfect match if there ever was one - is to let the idiosyncratic insanity and hyperactive humour wash over you, to the point where you will almost certainly leave the theatre with a grin on your face. And, maybe, with a few lessons learned too.
Puckoon is a revival, brought back to theatres all over the UK and Ireland in 2016 by popular demand. The production I attend is on April 16 at Derry-Londonderry’s Playhouse Theatre, which would have been Milligan’s 98th birthday, and a Puckoon-themed cake has been brought along to mark the occasion. Needless to say it goes down well with the numerous hearty, smiling faces at the interval.
Puckoon is the story of how a talented writer, very well played by musical director Paul Boyd, narrates and creates a plot, a lead character oblivious to this plot, a priest losing the plot, a series of locals getting in on the plot and a plot centred around grave robbery. There are no theatrical rules in this ever-thickening plot (there's that word again) apart from those which the writer and narrator makes for himself - rules made to be as broken as the titular fictional town is by external plans.
Because, in 1922, the Ulster Boundary Commission's decision to draw the new national border right through the town has caused divisions of all kinds. Drink is cheaper, the church and graveyard are separated, and Dan Milligan, played by Paddy Jenkins, is whining to the narrator (don't ask, just go with it) about what to do with his plot (there’s that word yet again) of land. It's like a tug of war between how a writer wants a character to act and how the character wants his character to act – in other words, the kind of muddle that occurs when more than one auteur tries to make their stamp on a single piece of work. Or, to put it another way, battles over leadership and type of leadership. Or, to put it yet another way, worthy of Monty Python in its mirth and message.
The tone and invention in that sketch pretty much sums up what the packed theatre gets here. The stage is full of very useful clutter, with a rack of clothes in one corner, a set of musical instruments in another, and a movable doorway complete with a door. Ideal, then, for livening up the countless caricatures played by the four additional actors on stage - John O’Mahony, Giles Stoakley, Patrick J O’Reilly and Keith Singleton - who Spike Milligan inspired and Dan Milligan will meet. The wit and wisdom of the former Milligan shines through in every song heard and in adept and unconventional portrayal on show, including a priest, doctor, major, local woman and trainee Chinese policeman. (Again, don’t ask.)
But the centrepiece of Puckoon is Boyd. His narration enriches the work as much as his musical compositions - while narrating can easily be seen as an expositional crutch, it's perfect for this story about a story. The bemusing and amusing moment when his otherwise dry and factual delivery becomes laced with confusion, as he tries to maintain pacing during a period of inaction for the other actors, is arguably the epitome of this highly entertaining work"
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
"They say there is a thin line between insanity and genius and Big Telly's adaptation of Spike Milligan's novel ‘Puckoon’ demonstrates how very thin that line is, and how very easy it is to jump back and forth across that line with a silly grin on one's face.
Set in 1922, the Boundary Commission inadvertently divide the small village of Puckoon in their haste to get to the pub. This leaves Catholics buried in the now English part of the churchyard requiring passports for the duration of their stay, and the ensuing plan to repatriate them is also an opportunity for two inept IRA men to smuggle explosives across the border in coffins - oh yes, and beer is cheaper in the corner of the pub which falls on the other side of the line.
In this string of absurd comedy sketches, through which emerges a sharp satirical swipe at Partition, there are boy scouts performing Julius Caesar, a singing Chinese police officer, a lazy Irishman, a corrupt priest and a Hasidic village doctor. Take heed though - Milligan once said, "I'm not racist. I hate everybody", so it doesn't stop there and there is also a lisping Orangeman who spits out dentures, Murphy's face that looks like one of his own potatoes and something to do with a midget's widow.
This very ridiculous concoction wears its Goon Show credentials on its sleeve and the cast of six deliver the anarchy with great energy. Most of the cast play instruments as well as taking on upward of six characters sometimes playing more than one in a scene. Glen Kinch is spot on as he darts from being Dr Goldstein on one side of the stage to the British officer on the other making it all look so easy, whilst Bryan Quinn's split second transition in and out of the Mrs O'Toole character is comically brilliant.
John O'Mahony is a natural as the priest who could have come off the set of Father Ted and Russell Morton has us in stitches as the singing Chinese policeman. The story, if you can call it that, is held together by narration from The Writer, played with frustrated deadpan by Paul Boyd, and Jack Walsh as the feckless Dan Milligan who wants to have better legs written into the play, both of whom are very funny indeed.
Director Zoe Seaton keeps the pace up, essential when delivering madcap comedy like this which will appeal to Goon fans as well as lovers of absurdist humour and anyone who hasn't lost the joy of untrammelled silliness”
"It took the satirical genius of Spike Milligan to identify the hugely comic possibilities lurking beneath the surface of the 1924 Border Commission’s machinations to draw a frontier between Britain (in the shape of Northern Ireland) and what was then known as the Irish Free State.
Vincent Higgins, Zoe Seaton, Paul Boyd and the company have clearly had a rare old time in adapting Milligan’s internationally successful novel into a rip-roaring piece of physical theatre which is hugely entertaining. In the role of the confused writer, Boyd provides the on-stage compass, supplying ad hoc music and script for the haphazard journey of old Dan Milligan (Jack Quinn), whose cycling exploits along the border are the cause of many an unforeseen disaster.
The other four actor/musicians rarely leave the black box of a stage, zipping between costumes and characters like men possessed. Conleth White’s clever lighting is an integral part of a glossy production which looks great, even when outrageous events threaten to get in the way"
"When director Zoe Seaton and musical maestro Paul Boyd get together, something a little crazy often results. Their collective gaze has fallen enthusiastically on the madcap genius of Spike Milligan, comedian, writer, musician, playwright, poet and Goon. His best-selling novel ‘Puckoon’ has already been adapted into a film; now Seaton, Boyd and Vincent Higgins have turned it into a fast-moving, Pythonesque piece of theatre.
In the role of writer, Boyd spearheads proceedings, scripting the whimsical wanderings of old Dan Milligan (Jack Quinn) along the Border on a rickety bicycle. The problem for the people of Puckoon is that, late on a Friday evening in the pub, their little patch of Ireland was divided, when the dreaded commissioners’ pencil was pushed and shoved down the centre of the village.
Now the erection of Border posts and barbed wire means even funerals cannot be held without passports being produced, a situation that deteriorates from farce to slapstick to total chaos. The six actors switch roles and costumes at dizzying speed and with relish for the task. Milligan’s vision is an oddball entertainment"