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Preview: The Wasp at South Shields Customs House


The Wasp – A Play With A Real Sting


The Wasp

South Shields Customs House

Wednesday 21 -  Saturday 24 September 2022


The Customs House returns as a North East production house this September with the gritty psychological drama The Wasp, starring Jessica Johnson and Christina Berriman Dawson.

Written by Olivier Award winning playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and directed by the nationally acclaimed Jake Smith, it tells the story of Heather and Carla. Their lives have taken hugely different paths – Carla lives a hand to mouth existence while Heather has a high-flying career, husband, and a beautiful home. And yet, here they are in a cafĂ© having tea and making awkward conversation. That is until Heather presents Carla with an unexpected proposition…

The Wasp is a dark and brooding drama that asks how far beyond the playground we carry our childhood experiences and to what lengths some people are willing to go to in order to come to terms with them.

Director Jake Smith commented:” I am so excited to be bringing The Wasp to The Customs House and to our North East audience. I first watched The Wasp myself in 2015 at the Hampstead Theatre and was bowled over at what appears such a little play on the surface but encapsulates a twisting and turning evening of drama. It is both an intense psychological thriller and at times black comedy. It is written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, who is known for her pioneering voice in creating powerful narratives for women which focus on class and oppression.

This play combines the power of live theatre with the appeal of an ITV drama, and if The Wasp were in the 9pm drama slot, there isn’t a chance the nation wouldn’t be hooked. It feels everyone somehow might share a connection to the piece as it magnifies the drama of real life. Add in the chance to watch two of our region's finest actors go at it head-to-head, and The Wasp really is one not to be missed.”


The Wasp opens at The Customs House on Wednesday 21st September and runs until Saturday 24th September. Tickets are priced from £12 and available online at , from the box office in person or on (0191) 454 1234.

Preview: Welcome to the Jungle at ARC Stockton


Stockton-based theatre maker Umar Butt to preview new show at ARC Stockton Arts Centre


Welcome to the Jungle

ARC Stockton

Tuesday 20 - Wednesday 21 September 2022

A brand new show from a Stockton-based writer, director, actor and theatre maker will preview at ARC Stockton this September. Umar Butt, an Associate Artist at ARC, is creating Welcome to the Jungle, an epic, intensely personal tale of how two strangers came to meet each other in the middle of the night, on an empty bridge.

Exploring issues around identity, migration, belonging, family and community, Welcome to the Jungle seeks to help neighbours understand each other better – their experiences, their points of view, their hopes and their values. Umar hopes that the story will help us all find connection with each other, and celebrate our differences.

Umar Butt

Umar says: “I am so excited to start work on Welcome to the Jungle, and to bring this story into people’s lives. We’re telling a global story about connection and family, but one that is very much grounded in Teesside. It’s about you and your neighbour as much as it is about global issues that we’re facing. But while dealing with those issues, it will be fun, and exciting, and full of warmth and heart.” 

Umar has been creating work in association with ARC since 2018. In 2019 he presented Alex & Eliza, a deeply personal intergenerational story with its roots in the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, to sold-out audiences both on Teesside and on a UK tour. Now he has secured funding to lead a creative team of 14 people on his new show.

Welcome to the Jungle has been created with the support of ARC Stockton, The Dukes, Lancaster, Sheffield Theatres, and Arts Council England.


Welcome to the Jungle is at ARC Stockton on Tuesday 20 September at 7pm and Wednesday 21 September at 2pm. Both performances will be BSL interpreted.

Tickets are priced on a Pay What You Decide basis, which means you can book your seats in advance as usual, and then pay what you thought the experience was worth after the show. Book at or by calling ARC on 01642 525199. 


Preview: An Inspector Calls at Newcastle Theatre Royal


Classic Thriller An Inspector Calls Returns To Newcastle Theatre Royal


An Inspector Calls

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 November 2022

Stephen Daldry’s record breaking and multi-award winning production of An Inspector Calls returns to Newcastle Theatre Royal in November.

Liam Brennan will play ‘Inspector Goole’, Christine Kavanagh ‘Mrs Birling’, Jeffrey Harmer ‘Mr Birling’, Simon Cotton ‘Gerald Croft’, Evlyne Oyedokun ‘Sheila Birling’, George Rowlands ‘Eric Birling’ and Frances Campbell ‘Edna’. The cast is completed by Philip Stewart, Beth Tuckey, Maceo Cortezz and Rue Blenkinsop.

Liam Brennan returns to An Inspector Calls having played the role of Inspector Goole during previous UK tours. His other theatre credits include Richard III and Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe, and Diary of a Madman at The Gate, for which he was awarded Best Actor at the Edinburgh Festival in 2016.

In the 30-years since its first performance at the National Theatre in 1992, Stephen Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls has won a total of 19 major awards, including four Tony Awards and three Olivier Awards, and has played to more than 5 million theatregoers worldwide. An Inspector Calls is the most internationally-lauded production in the National Theatre’s history.

Now world-renowned as one of Britain’s leading theatre and film directors, Stephen Daldry has received Academy Award nominations for his films The Reader, The Hours, Billy Elliot and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His recent West End theatre work includes David Hare’s Skylight at the Wyndham’s Theatre and Peter Morgan’s The Audience at the Apollo Theatre. His multi award-winning production of Billy Elliot The Musical ran for 11 incredible years at the Victoria Palace before embarking on a national tour.

JB Priestley’s brilliantly constructed masterpiece powerfully dramatises the dangers of casual capitalism’s cruelty, complacency and hypocrisy. Stephen Daldry’s epic production highlights the play’s enduring relevance.

Written at the end of the Second World War and set before the First, An Inspector Calls is a compelling and haunting thriller. The story begins when the mysterious Inspector Goole calls unexpectedly on the prosperous Birling family home. Their peaceful family dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the death of a young woman.

Photo Tristram Kenton


An Inspector Calls plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 November 2022. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


Preview: Newcastle Live Theatre Autumn '22


Every Voice Must Be Heard: Live Theatre’s thrilling autumn season is made up of deeply personal stories from across society

Live Theatre in Newcastle becomes a platform for artists to tell some of their most personal and political stories this Autumn, with productions ranging from a world premiere by a former Durham prisoner to Live’s very first family show co-written with local school children. Creativity is within all of us and the current programme is testament to that, where people from wide ranging ages and circumstances can find their words come to life on Live Theatre’s iconic stage.  


The flagship show of the season is One Off; an electric piece of writing by Ric Renton, based on his astonishing true story of being incarcerated in HMP Durham. The story follows three young prisoners and their unlikely friendship with a prison night guard and how Ric’s own life was saved by a discovery of language. Bursting with energy and humour this incredible ensemble drama runs from Thursday 10 to Saturday 26 November.  

But before that, Live Theatre is honoured to launch the first national tour of Amy Trigg’s critically acclaimed Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me, presented by Paines Plough, The Women’s Prize for Playwrighting, 45 North and Kiln Theatre. This is a super fun, joyous, laugh out loud, stand-up style show about dating, learning to love yourself and body positivity and runs from Wednesday 7 to Saturday 10 September before touring the UK.  

Hearts and heartlessness are the subjects of heartfelt presented by radical North East artist gobscure on Wednesday 19 October. A wildly inventive, disability-led show by a theatre voice that is as complex as it is dazzling.  

Later that month, Thursday 27 to Sunday 30 October there’s a ghostly treat for Halloween as Live Theatre presents a special reading with live music of Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist. A spine-chilling and deeply personal tale of haunting and grief written by legendary writer David Almond (Skellig). 


Your Voice Your Future: North East will be a showcase platform of writers new to Live Theatre where eight artists will present bold new visons of what the world can be. Running from Thursday 15 to Sunday 18 September this will be a unique opportunity to experience visionary new work today by the stars of tomorrow.  

And in keeping with future thinking Live are thrilled to host the UK’s pioneering theatre company Forced Entertainment for the first time, to present their mind-expanding work Tomorrow’s Parties on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 November. This is a playful, poignant and at times delirious look forward to futures both possible and impossible. From utopian and dystopian visions, political nightmares and absurd fantasies, Forced Entertainment deliver a thought-provoking theatrical explosion. 


Live will be producing their first family show this Christmas, Wintry Tales,  written by major national playwright Rory Mullarkey in collaboration with school children across the North East. This highly visual, feverishly comic and uniquely interactive  family treat will open on Sunday 4 December, perfect for anyone aged 4+ and their families. Alongside it will be Live Theatre’s alternative Christmas show from Thursday 8 to Sunday 18 December. Wishes on the Wind by Benjamin Storey, fuses Northumbrian identity, folk music and family tradition with a short curtain raiser by Alison Scurfield. 


Find out more and book tickets pronto from or call Box Office on (0191) 232 1232.  


Susie Blake Talks About Her Role As Miss Marple In The Mirror Crack’d


Susie Blake Talks About Her Role As Miss Marple In The Mirror Crack’d


The Mirror Crack’d

Darlington Hippodrome

Tuesday 20 - Saturday 24 September 2022


Susie Blake is best known for playing the Continuity Announcer in Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV, as well as her regular roles of Bev Unwin in ITV’s Coronation Street and Hillary Nicholson in BBC’s Mrs Brown’s Boys.

She has recently appeared in series one and two of Kate & Koji (ITV), Not Going Out (BBC One) and The Real Marigold Hotel (BBC One). Her films include Fierce Creatures and Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!. Her theatre credits include Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical (Hall for Cornwall), Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (UK Tour), My Fair Lady (Grange Festival), Grumpy Old Women Live 2 & 3, When We Are Married (West End), Pygmalion (Chichester Festival Theatre), Madame Morrible in Wicked (West End) and Belinda Blair in Noises Off (National Theatre).

Was Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple always on your wish list of roles to play?

Yes, since the 1960s when I saw Margaret Rutherford playing her. That character performance immediately drew you in. I loved her also in other films. I know she’s not fashionable now but I absolutely loved her and thought that’s what I want to do with my life - to tell stories and be part of mysteries because every play is a mystery, isn’t it? You don’t know what’s going to happen until the end. So yes, I’ve always wanted to play Miss Marple.


You played Margaret Rutherford in Murder Margaret and Me, a play about her relationship with Agatha Christie. Has playing an actress famous for playing Miss Marple influenced your approach to playing the spinster sleuth in The Mirror Crack’d?

Not really. This time as Philip Franks, who is directing said, ‘Susie this is your interpretation now, we’ve got to find your interpretation’. Miss Marple is from a certain period. Her boyfriend, whom she talks about, was in the First World War, so she goes back quite a long way. My mum was born in 1917, and she and her friends were, you know, ‘good eggs’. They had a certain turn of phrase. So I met some quite useful people growing up.


How difficult is putting your stamp on a character so familiar through the many actors who have played her on stage and screen?

Going back to the books helps. At the moment I’m re-reading Pocketful of Rye and there are some very good descriptions of her in there. If I go back to that rather than watching other people playing her to find out what makes her tick.


What’s your impression of Miss Marple?

She’s fascinated by people, she’s obsessed with finding out the truth and she will go on nitpicking until she gets it. She hates evil and injustice, and she hunts it down. She’s relentless in her pursuit of the truth and will go on digging away and digging away. Rachel Wagstaff has written a very good script and she’s made Miss Marple a much clearer character - someone who wants to find out the truth. Not in an unkind way but she will go on at somebody, go on delving until she gets what she wants.


You also have to walk on crutches Miss Marple for much of The Mirror Crack’d..

She’s sprained her ankle but in this production I won’t be in a wheelchair.I’ll be on crutches which I have to learn how to use. I was watching someone on crutches the other day and he was very definitely using them to balance but not limping. I must try not to limp because at my age that could be disastrous.


Have you worked with anyone on the production before?

Yes, the director Philip Franks. He loves actors and I think we’ll be very confident and sure of ourselves before putting anything in front of the public.


How do you think Miss Marple compares to Agatha Christie’s other great detective Hercule Poirot?

They are so different. They both have the same interrogating mind but her methods are very much to do with the fact that she’s a little old lady. She gets chatting to people and shows her vulnerability, all the better to hook into what she needs to know. It’s the knife edge quality of her mind whereas Poirot never shows any weakness. She, on the other hand, will knock on someone’s door and say, ‘ooh I feel a bit faint can I sit down?’


How does this adaptation differ from previous ones?

I definitely think this one stands alone. You could take it to a country that’s never heard of her – although, of course, there isn’t a country that hasn’t heard of her- and it would work. There are names in it that are slightly different from the book. So aficionados might nitpick about slight changes that have been made to make it into a very good play.


Are you fan of mystery books?

I am.  My mum was a great reader of mystery books. She loved Ngaio Marsh and stories featuring a sleuth called Albert Campion. There are so many books you read that don’t seem to be thrillers but every book is a mystery. You don’t know what happens until the end. Will so-and-so fall in love with so-and- so, will such-and-such a thing happen, or will they get the job or meet the person they’re supposed to meet. Everything we see on television is a kind of a mystery. I’m absolutely loving re-reading the Agatha Christies. The people are so clearly drawn. Reading them all together like I’m doing you think: these are a multitude of people that she has observed. Agatha Christie is a Miss Marple herself in order to work these intricate stories through.


You recently said ‘I was never going to be cast on the way I look but now I can be cast as an oldie’ – have the roles got more interesting as you’ve got older?

Yes, I think they have - and I’ve probably got better too. I’ve never wanted to be a frontliner or a film star. That was never on the cards. It’s only when you look back that you think, ‘I’ve been busy in my career’. Splendid looks can be quite difficult when you have to do the changeover to middle age. For me, it’s gone seamlessly from girl next door to wives and mothers to grandmothers.


Any other roles on your wish list?

Well, the Queen is always good, isn’t she? And I’ve done her in Handbagged. That was fabulous, I really enjoyed that and there’s quite a bit of humour in that one as well. It’s definitely better than it was for old ladies because there’s more writing for them with more women writing. I’m happy as long as we get a good shot at the good parts.


What do people recognise you for?

That’s an interesting question because it’s either or. Either it’s Victoria Wood and theatre, various plays I’ve done. Or it’s very definitely Coronation Street.


Any thoughts on future work?

I’d love to be the next Miss Marple on telly. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Are you looking forward to touring?

I’ve got better at touring. A good friend helps me find the digs, which are always a problem. Someone once said ‘You’re not paying me for the performance because I love my job. You’re paying me for the travelling’. Travelling is a bore but I love visiting towns. I take my sketch book with me and make sure I do something to do with the town. Last week I was on tour in Stoke and visited a pottery where I bought lots of china. This week, in St Helen’s, I’m going to see the Gormley statues on the beach. I try to do something in every town that’s relevant to the town. I’ll do a sketch of something as well. That way you get a good memory of it.


The Mirror Crack’d runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 September. To book call the Box Office on 01325 405405 or visit


Preview: Dave Gorman: Powerpoint To The People at Stockton Globe




Powerpoint To The People – Dave Gorman’s Upcoming Tour Extended By 37 Dates


Dave Gorman: Powerpoint To The People

Stockton Globe

Thursday 20 April 2023



It was announced that, in advance of starting this September, Dave Gorman’s upcoming tour will be extended by a further 37 dates due to demand for tickets.

Dave Gorman: Powerpoint To The People will see the man behind Dave TV’s hit show Modern Life Is Goodish as well as Are You Dave Gorman? and Googlewhack Adventure back on the road this autumn with a brand-new live show.

The “high priest of the comedy Powerpoint talk” (The Times) is touring again – as much as anything to demonstrate that a powerpoint presentation doesn’t have to involve a man in a grey suit standing behind a lectern and saying, “next slide please”. We’ve all had enough of that, so let’s put it all behind us and never speak of it again – there are far more important things to analyse. Well… they’re more important in Dave’s head anyway.

This new show sees Dave continue to combine his unique and critically acclaimed style of stand-up and visual story-telling. His last tour was the critically acclaimed With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint which, three-times extended, saw Dave sell out four shows at London’s iconic Royal Festival Hall and the biggest theatres around the UK.

Dave’s live career has seen him sell out multiple tours of the UK, perform three runs off Broadway in New York, tour the USA, and become responsible for the fastest selling show in the history of the Studio Theatre at The Sydney Opera House. Live performances have also earned him the title of Best One Person Show at the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival (twice), as well as nominations for the Edinburgh Comedy Award (Perrier Award), the South Bank Award and two nominations for the prestigious American Drama Desk Award.


Tickets can be bought from our affiliate ATG Tickets:


REVIEW: Brotherhood Newcastle at Alphabetti

 Vitamin Noir featuring Kay Greyson & Northern Roots:


Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre

Until Saturday 10 September 2022

What they say “Hip-Hop dance theatre told with infectious joy and mischievous smiles.

Brotherhood is a new show highlighting the unknown struggles of young Black men living in the UK. Originally from Africa and the Caribbean, this all-Black cast of multi-talented long time friends will share their origin stories of perseverance through dance and music.”

In a short (usually 45 minutes) but perfectly formed piece of work, the audience is taken on a journey about freedom, friendship and fitting in. Brotherhood worked as a piece of theatre as it involves the audience. You are left challenged by the situation and invited to take part if you want.

Of course Alphabetti theatre is perfectly placed to host such a performance thanks to its’ intimate surroundings. As you are up close and personal with the action it is difficult to escape.

The show starts with some pounding music and flashing imagery of the title on the back wall. This is followed by a short video excerpts of recent racist incidents. I say recent, some of the action goes back 50 or more years and shows that the situation people of colour currently find themselves in within our community has not improved in that time.

Kay Grayson appears and informs the audience that she cannot dance but she is the best person to tell this story.  Kay is extremely versatile at creating spoken word pieces which cleverly bridge the potential divide between poetry and rap lyrics.  A group of 4 dancers then deliver a simple but powerful message. Unlike some dance shows there is dialogue, which helps illustrate what on earth is going on. (I have to admit that sometimes with dance show I don’t always know what is going on - and this isn't the case this particular production). The sense of family and community from the group of four is empowering. It is easy to recognise the journey from being an outsider to one of acceptance within a group. 

The dancing is energetic and fits with the hip hop style of the accompanying music.

The simplicity of the production is something of a master stroke; the clarity the message impresses upon the audience the need for all of us to fit in. 

Not everything in this production went to plan. Some of the lighting didn't work at one point and I was left thinking that it was quite clever how they'd used limited lighting during a particularly powerful scene. Apparently somebody had kicked a wire out as they walked in. We were asked to leave the room whilst to reset the lighting and then restart the performance from Kay’s initial monologue. Upon having full lighting it's clear that we had actually missed quite a bit of the intricate nature of the dancing. Perhaps with hindsight it wasn't appropriate for the low light that had happened by accident after all and it was much better when it was fixed. These things happen but never mind we were given a treat of an extended performance.

Personally I really enjoyed this show you left with a smile on my face. new sentence

Review: Stephen Oliver. 

Cast & Creatives:

Devisors, Composer & Performers:                             

Kay Greyson, Hashim Kani, Blessing Mpofu, Marshal Siziba, Igor Tavares & Abdullah Oshinusi

Writer and Director                                                       Kay Greyson

Stage Manager                                                            Wilf Stone

Sound Designer                                                           Rob Green

Lighting & Projection Designer                                    John Rainsforth

Costume Designer                                                       Naomi Daley

Producer                                                                      Eilis McGowan

Movement Mentor                                                        Alicia Meehan

Musical Mentor                                                             April Olatunji

On The Web:



Preview: Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me at Newcastle Live Theatre

 Award Winning Play Starts its Major National Tour at Live Theatre, Newcastle

Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me 

Newcastle Live Theatre

Wednesday 7 - Saturday 10 September 2022

Live Theatre Newcastle are thrilled to welcome winner of the Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020, Amy Trigg’s remarkable debut play Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me to the Quayside venue from Wednesday 7 to Saturday 10 September 2022 as the first venue of its major national tour.

Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me follows Juno who was born with spina bifida and is now 
clumsily navigating her twenties amidst street healers, love, loneliness and the feeling of being an unfinished project. Semi-autobiographical and based on experiences from Amy’s own past,  audiences will find themselves relating to this very funny, engaging and universal story of ups and downs, dating for millennials and learning to love yourself.

Presented by Paines Plough in association with Women’s Prize for Playwriting, 45 North and Kiln Theatre, the play is written and performed by Amy Trigg and directed by Charlotte Bennett.

The play sold out on its first run at London’s Kiln Theatre in 2021 to rave reviews.

Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me is a super fun, heart-warming, one woman, joyous, stand-up style show which certainly packs a punch.


Tickets priced from £10 to £15 with concessions from £6 are available from 


Q&A with the Authors Of Spike, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman – A new play coming to Darlington Hippodrome

Q&A with the Authors Of Spike, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman – A new play coming to Darlington Hippodrome


Darlington Hippodrome

Tuesday 18 - Saturday 22 October 2022

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have teamed up to create a new stage play based on thelife of Spike Milligan which comes to Darlington Hippodrome in October.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman
Your play ‘Spike’ tells the story of the young Spike Milligan, coming out of World War Two and writing and performing with The Goon Show – which became a phenomenon. How did the play come about? 

Nick Newman [NN]: We wanted to write something about Spike to coincide with the centenary of his birth –we didn’t quite hit that deadline, but we made it for his 104th! From the outset, we wanted it to be a celebration. There are too many biopics of comedians that tell the ‘tears of a clown’ story. And while you can’t escape Spike’s mental health issues, for us that was something that we saw as powering his comedy.  

Ian Hislop [IH]: We didn’t want an audience coming out thinking, ‘the really important thing about this person is that they were miserable and unhappy. And now so am I!’. We wanted them thinking, ‘the important thing about this person is that he produced all this!’ and it made a huge number of people very happy. And still does. There are two very grim incidents in the play involving Spike having breakdowns, both of which he immediately turned into comedy. That in itself is fascinating.  

Did you want to celebrate Spike because you were Goon Show fans when you were younger?  

NN: Maybe. I remember when I was at school, just crying with laughter reading Spike’s war memoirs. And The Goon Show, I was brought up on it. My father was in the RAF and we were stationed in places like Singapore where there was no television. All we had to listen to was acetate recordings of The Goon Show. I can still quote chunks and bore for Britain.  

IH: I’m a lot younger than Nick, so I didn’t hear them first time around. I missed out. The pleasure for me of making this play was Nick saying, ‘this is really funny. Genuinely funny and brilliant writing.’ And I went back and listened to it and was gobsmacked. I’d become so used to the older Spike, and the older Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, that I’d forgotten that when they first came along, they’d just been demobbed, they were really young men, and they blew the place away.  

And the people in charge at the BBC couldn’t bear it. They had no idea what this group were doing, and they wanted to shut them down, basically. They thought they were noisy and anarchic and up to no good. All of which was true: that’s what made them so attractive. So for me the challenge with the play was: can we bring all that to life onstage?

And that's what the play depicts: the battles between Milligan and the BBC?

NN: When we first began writing, we managed to get hold of a great cache of correspondence between Spike and the BBC, and from BBC management about Spike. And that gave us the backbone of the story. Because it was quite clear that Spike, having been fighting Hitler and Mussolini for five years, went into the BBC and started fighting them. It was a continuation of war by other means. 

IH: Spike always hated the BBC. He was furious that they didn’t pay him enough money and didn’t respect him and were trying to get rid of him. There was something about institutions that he found incredibly annoying – but also productive and comforting. He wouldn’t have been who he was without them. After all, the BBC gave him two brilliant producers, who made the anarchic mess that was the Goons into one of the greatest radio programmes ever. So they both enabled and frustrated him.  

NN: Some of it was class warfare, I think, because Spike was working-class. As you can tell from his war memoirs, he didn’t have time for the officer class. And of course, after the war, all these officers went straight into the BBC and ran it. So Spike was at loggerheads with them on that basis.  

As we’ve tried to reflect in the play, the BBC management were always saying: there’s too much in The Goon Show about the war, it’s too noisy, there are too many explosions. And this was Spike exorcising his demons. One critic described the Goons as being “like shell-shock on radio”, and that says it all. That was Spike’s experience: he was shell-shocked. And he carried on reflecting that in his work.  

IH: It’s interesting, because we tend to think of the 1950s as being incredibly deferential and then luckily along came satire in 1961 and everything changed. But that’s not how it happened. The great satirists Richard Ingrams and Peter Cook were huge Spike fans. When I took over as editor of Private Eye, [previous editor] Ingrams said to me ‘Spike Milligan will write in letters. Just put them in! He’s a genius.’ And Michael Palin, who we worked with on our film  The Wipers Times, said to us, ‘People say Monty Python was very influenced by The Goons. And yes: it was!’ 

It’s remarkable that Spike’s work inspired two different strands of UK comedy: Python-style absurdism but also the ’60s satire boom. 

IH: I don’t think they saw those things as separate in the way later historians did. Spike was just doing topical comedy. In 1954, the BBC produced a landmark TV version of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ . The Goon Show almost immediately produced an episode called ‘1985’, taking the mickey out of the ‘Big Brother Corporation’. It was the same with the Coronation. They did a whole episode about it. It’s not like ‘oh, what’s this mad world that the Goons created?’ It’s your world! It’s the one that’s going on in front of you.  

NN: In the play, we show how satirical Spike was. There were conflicts with the BBC about Peter Sellers doing an impression of the Queen. The BBC hauled Spike in and said ‘you can’t parody the Queen!’ Nobody had done that before: a direct satire of the monarchy. The BBC thought everyone was going to get put in the Tower. But then three years later, Prince Philip invited the Goons to be his representatives in the Cambridge tiddlywinks competition. 

IH: Prince Philip clearly thought the Goons had delivered a very amusing representation of his wife. Which endeared him to me. 

NN: In the correspondence we read, which the play dramatises, the BBC are complaining that the Goons’ endless jokes about the war are insulting to the memory of the people who fought in it. So of course Spike turned around and said ‘We all fought in the war!’ If you read his war memoirs, they’re full of people making jokes about the grimmest situations. There’s this account of Spike just before he gets blown up at Monte Cassino, crawling up a gully and being bombed by the Germans. He comes across a rock onto which someone has chalked a sign saying ‘World War Two: this way’, and an arrow. And you think: in the midst of death, that is quite funny. 

Did doing it live, in a theatre, help you get closer to the spirit of the Goons' work? 

IH: When you put something onto the live stage, you can bridge the gap to the audience and have real fun with it...

NN: …because when they recorded it, they were endlessly ‘corpsing’- laughing uncontrollably and breaking the fourth wall. The BBC got so annoyed. They said, ‘you sound as if you’re having more fun than the audience.’ And they said: 'We are!' We’ve tried to reflect that on stage by also breaking the fourth wall. When you see the play performed live it does remind you that Spike always had an imaginary audience in his head. 

IH: He was never happier than with an audience. Being a tortured writer on his own, that was the downside. For Spike, the great bit was rehearsal and then performance. Or the TV chat shows, on which he was such a great performer. Spike would be on anything. He just loved it. So we needed an actor who would understand that, who really wanted to get the laughs.  

NN: There is a responsibility to try and get it right. Because the Milligan family came to see the play, their reaction was very important to us. Jane Milligan came up to us after the show and said ‘That was my dad on stage!’ That felt fantastic. Because the family want Spike’s legacy to be that he was very, very funny. And so do we. 

We have a lovely speech at the end of the play, a little paean of praise from Harry Secombe to what it was like working on the Goon Shows. Every time I hear it performed, it brings tears to my eyes. Because it’s exactly what my memory of the Goons is. Just wishing every day was a Sunday. Soaring on the thermal gusts of Spike Milligan’s imagination. Reflecting that is everything we wanted to achieve with the play.  

IH: Secombe was the one who saw what fun they were having, who genuinely appreciated it, and tried to keep the peace with the other two so it didn’t all break up. You know, millions of people listen to them every week. Every Sunday they’d go into the studio and have an enormous amount of fun, and then go out to the pub afterwards and have a laugh with people who loved them. What bit of that isn’t right?! We wanted to get that feeling across. 

Is it part of your ambition with the play to introduce Spike’s work to new audiences? 

IH: Yes,  I think that’s fair. There’s nothing quite as much fun as hearing a joke delivered to a modern audience that was written 100 years ago, in the case of The Wipers Times, or with the Goons, 50 years ago. And hearing today’s audience roar with laughter. You just think: that’s fabulous. That is incredibly pleasing. 


Spike runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Tuesday 18 to Saturday 22 October. To book call the Box Office on 01325 405405 or visit