Review: A Sockful of Custard

4 star rating
An engaging, affectionate celebration of Spike Milligan's genius, blends the comic madness of the legendary comedian with some of the more poignant aspects of his life and personality.
A Sockful of Custard at Pleasance - Islington

Image: Pleasance - Islington

Closes here: Saturday 26 May 2018

Jeremy Stockwell and Chris Larner


Jeremy Stockwell

Chris Larner


In the year of his hundredth birthday, the late, great Goon himself - Spike Milligan - granddaddy of modern comedy - looks back on his life, forward to his holidays and down the back of the sofa for his trousers.

It says here.

Larner and Stockwell - two men with beards - sift through the madness and find only more of it.


ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Monday 16 April 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Terence Alan Milligan (16 April 1918 to 27 February 2002) is still better known in the show business world and to the general public as Spike Milligan, a comedian with many interesting, significant and unique aspects to both his work and personality.

He's best known, perhaps, for his work as writer and one of the stars of the BBC radio programme 'The Goon Show' in which he found himself in the company of other well-known personalities: Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.

But Mr Milligan was also a writer of books and comic verses and appeared in stage plays such as the extraordinary and successful Oblomov (and Son of Oblomov).

2018 being the 100th anniversary of Spike Milligan's birth, provides an opportunity to celebrate the life and work of this gifted comic talent, often attributed with the tag of founding, or at least signposting the direction of modern British comedy.

So, how do you go about constructing a show that offers a suitable celebratory device for this kind of man?

Well, in the hands of of Jeremy Stockwell and Chris Larner we get glimpses of the life and work of Spike Milligan through a series of, largely comic, and sometimes anarchic vignettes spanning Mr Milligan's entire life, starting with his early childhood in India.

Jeremy Stockwell plays Spike Milligan when required, but both actors also drift in and out of their own personalities during the performance.

This allows them to fill in gaps in the overall narrative and link scenes together, also adding a personal, affectionate layer to the show from two men who undoubtedly admire both Milligan's work and the man himself.

And, like much of the comedian's work, there's no attempt to make the show perfectly polished or laboriously word perfect - there's an intentional layer of conversational informality running through it.

Apart from comic scenes, Messrs Stockwell and Larner also find room to highlight some of the more serious issues in Milligan's life.

Along the way, we find him in hospital - he suffered from bipolar disorder and had numerous mental breakdowns - and we also hear of his strident views about environmental issues and consumerism.

Mr Stockwell ably impersonates not only characters from The Goon Show, but also effectively captures Mr Milligan's speaking voice as well.

But there's more than mere vocal mimicry on display as Mr Stockwell finds the almost child-like quality of Milligan - a kind of naive innocence, unbridled by rules and with an exuberant and vivid imagination that found humour in the strangest of places and almost every aspect of life.

Chris Larner provides snippets of narrative and describes well-defined and funny characters such as a hospital nurse, and a rather traditional but bewildered thespian in an excellent Oblomov scene, and also offering musical diversion through songs and playing piano and ukulele.

In his Q series for BBC TV, Spike Milligan came up with comedy sketches that were often insanely odd, with many of them fading out rather than landing-up at a logical conclusion.

Aptly, we also find that approach in much of A Sockful of Custard.

Some of the sketches are from Spike Milligan's own work - such as the dustbin song - and some, like a funny and poignant scene in a hospital seem to be the actors' interpretation of his real-life experiences.

Like some of Spike Milligan's work, the humour here doesn't always result in convulsive hilarity, but there's more than enough both to entertain and to illustrate Milligan's unique style of comedy.

In this relatively short show, Jeremy Stockwell and Chris Larner certainly achieve their goal - to highlight, acknowledge and celebrate the hugely inventive comic brilliance of the performer, his pain and suffering, and his obvious humanity.

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