Thursday, 22 October 2009

Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall - Chichester Festival Theatre

Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall
Adaptors: Ben Power and Tim Carroll
Directed by Tim Carroll
Reviewer: Jonathan Lewis

The voice of the twentysomething collective cries out, Spike who? As I recall someone important said something along time ago about Spike Milligan, "Never in the field of alternative comedy has so much been owed by so many to just one man. A man who not only crafted the bar of alternative and anarchic comedy but raised to a level that many tried and are still failing to reach.

To understand the comedian is to understand the traumatic events that he experienced as a young man during world war two. Spike was exposed to many violent events that shaped his humour and allowed him to develop comedy as a defence against personal tragedy and loss.

The adaptation by Ben Power and Tim Carroll of Spike's book, Adolf Hitler my part in his downfall, takes us on the journey from conscription, to the frontline of battle in a British field artillery unit, Battery D. The audience is invited to join the emotional rollercoaster that is Gunner Milligan and his mates experiences battling the forces of Nazi Germany. From El Alamein to Monte Cassino we follow the trials and tribulations of Battery D, Milligan played by debutant, Sholto Morgan and also Dominic Green, William Findley, David Morley Hale and Matthew Devereux, the splendidly multi talented, MC.

The waltz through world war two is delivered in monologue, dialogue, song and dance. The audience gain a developing sense of empathy and understanding for the hell that is warfare and the tedium that is the impending wait for warfare. The musical numbers are at regular points and often interrupt moments of sadness, loss or reflection. You genuinely feel uplifted by the singing and playing and gain the sense that no one died in vain and that life must carry on. The part of Milligan played by Sholto Morgan in his professional debut was delivered with high levels of excitement. Morgan grew with the confidence of a soldier who becomes accustomed to the falling shells.

Morgan was ably supported and accompanied throughout by the wonderfully talented boys of Battery D. Such high levels of ability in both song and playing was a fine reflection of the talent we have available in British theatre today. The versatility of the boys in playing various instruments was commendable.

Occasionally the transitions between sketches were protracted, but this seemed to become an irrelevance, the performances were always worth waiting for. The relationships between the "boys" was handled with great sensitivity and the support for injured comrades both physically and psychologiocally was exceptional. The bonds of friendship carved in war were believeable and reflect a very slick preparation, production (Greg Ripley Duggan) and direction (Tim Carroll)

The musical performances are in themselves a reason that you have to experience this show. The audience were humming, some even singing and foot tapping to old time favourites such as Pennies from Heaven, Tangerine and Ive got a girl in Kalamazoo. The highlight though was the "ballad of tommy trinder" lyrics by Harry Edgington 1943 and music by Oliver Jackson 2009. A wonderfully entertaining song that showcases the talents of the cast exceptionally, all performed to pile suffering Milligan who is lying vertically in his sick bed!

Power and Carroll have resurrected comedy genius and enabled a new generation to experience the genius of Spike Milligan. Whilst Carroll's direction enabled the boys of Battery D to recreate the amateur NAAFI canteen performance through slick numbers and occasional ad lib. This is a performance for both the Wii Collective and Need a Wee generation to laugh the evening away together.

Runs until Sat 24th Oct
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