At the weekend I went to the premier of the comedy/musical Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall at Bristol’s Old Vic.
It has fantastic raw material to work with – all the dialogue is taken from Spike Milligan’s war time memoirs, the sequence of books condensed into one play. Add to that music taken from the classics of the time and you have a potent mix.
On the first night though it didn’t quite come off. Although the inventive set, with a few basic items repeatedly reused in different ways, gave a sense of energy and eccentricity perfect for a play about Spike Milligan, the overall operation was less smooth.
Frequently the lights (or actors) were not quite in the right place and, whilst the cast’s improvised reaction to the piano breakdown was superb, it gave the feel of a cast not quite ready.
The first half had some comedy highs but it was almost as if the cast got a football manager style talking to at half time, for the start of the second half was the strongest and funniest section. The final maudlin scenes just about managed the tricky transition from humour to tragedy, as Spike Milligan first suffered the mental health illnesses that were to blight much of the rest of his life.
Will it become a hit? The first night’s performance was enjoyable and encouraging, but not quite up to the mark. There is time though to put that right and with Spike Milligan as the source material, it should be relatively easy to inject those extra touches of humour that would take it from enjoyable to a major hit.
The play is shortly going on tour around the country, including appearing at Hampstead Theatre 23 July – 22 August.