Milligan's depression inspires Goons play

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The story of Spike Milligan's battle with depression in the final days of the 1950s classic radio comedy, The Goons, is to be told in a new play.

The story of Spike Milligan's battle with depression in the final days of the 1950s classic radio comedy, The Goons, is to be told in a new play.

Two years after the death of Milligan, Ying Tong, named after The Goons' famous silly song, will follow the surprise stage hit about another cult radio show, Round the Horne ... Revisited, in tapping a vein of comedy nostalgia.

Casting is taking place now for the key roles of Milligan and his fellow Goons, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, for the production which will premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds this October.

Michael Bentine, who left before the show acquired cult status in its third series, is mentioned in the play but not cast.

Ying Tong was written by Roy Smiles, 38, a stand-up comic and actor turned playwright, in what he admits is a conscious attempt at populism.

"I've been writing fringe plays for about a decade and was a playwright in search of an audience so I was trying to think of something a bit more commercial," he said.

Though too young to remember The Goons first time around, he recalled them from repeats in the 1970s.

But his bitter-sweet comedy takes no dialogue from the originals. "It was more of a writing challenge to capture the style of comedy," he said. "It is a proper play rather than excerpts."

At its heart lies the intense struggles inside the mind of Spike Milligan, who found the relentless cycle of producing scripts for each 26-episode series affected his mental balance and happiness.

In the play, he conjures up his fellow Goons as he considers whether the price of writing his wonderful surreal brand of humour is worth it in terms of his own sanity. There are also cameo appearances from some memorable Goons characters such as Eccles, Seagoon and Blue Bottle.

The play was created during a spell at the National Theatre's studio where writers get the chance to work on new material.Terry Johnson, the author of acclaimed plays inspired by the Carry On team and Benny Hill, sponsored Smiles through the process.

But he had to drop out from direct involvement in the production and Michael Kingsbury was brought in to direct, hot from the success of Round the Horne. Mr Kingsbury said Round the Horne...Revisited and Ying Tong both offered a degree of nostalgia, but also a chance to reassess comedy that had proved "seminaland ground-breaking and has influenced so many different comedy teams".

Ying Tong will be staged at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 22 October to 20 November. It is hoped that it will then transfer to London.

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