"Flat-out anarchy is the order of the evening in the Big Telly Theatre Company's adaptation of Spike Milligan's comically masterful Puckoon, a crazy concoction of music, mimicry, mixed messages and multiple-character playing that constantly and hilariously satirises people, politics, professions and the written word. It strictly adheres to the central theme in the work of Milligan and Big Telly: don't ever try to make sense of them, because, believe me, you won't.
The key to enjoying this marriage of the legendary comedian and the Portstewart-based dramatists - a perfect match if there ever was one - is to let the idiosyncratic insanity and hyperactive humour wash over you, to the point where you will almost certainly leave the theatre with a grin on your face. And, maybe, with a few lessons learned too.
Puckoon is a revival, brought back to theatres all over the UK and Ireland in 2016 by popular demand. The production I attend is on April 16 at Derry-Londonderry’s Playhouse Theatre, which would have been Milligan’s 98th birthday, and a Puckoon-themed cake has been brought along to mark the occasion. Needless to say it goes down well with the numerous hearty, smiling faces at the interval.
Puckoon is the story of how a talented writer, very well played by musical director Paul Boyd, narrates and creates a plot, a lead character oblivious to this plot, a priest losing the plot, a series of locals getting in on the plot and a plot centred around grave robbery. There are no theatrical rules in this ever-thickening plot (there's that word again) apart from those which the writer and narrator makes for himself - rules made to be as broken as the titular fictional town is by external plans.
Because, in 1922, the Ulster Boundary Commission's decision to draw the new national border right through the town has caused divisions of all kinds. Drink is cheaper, the church and graveyard are separated, and Dan Milligan, played by Paddy Jenkins, is whining to the narrator (don't ask, just go with it) about what to do with his plot (there’s that word yet again) of land. It's like a tug of war between how a writer wants a character to act and how the character wants his character to act – in other words, the kind of muddle that occurs when more than one auteur tries to make their stamp on a single piece of work. Or, to put it another way, battles over leadership and type of leadership. Or, to put it yet another way, worthy of Monty Python in its mirth and message.
The tone and invention in that sketch pretty much sums up what the packed theatre gets here. The stage is full of very useful clutter, with a rack of clothes in one corner, a set of musical instruments in another, and a movable doorway complete with a door. Ideal, then, for livening up the countless caricatures played by the four additional actors on stage - John O’Mahony, Giles Stoakley, Patrick J O’Reilly and Keith Singleton - who Spike Milligan inspired and Dan Milligan will meet. The wit and wisdom of the former Milligan shines through in every song heard and in adept and unconventional portrayal on show, including a priest, doctor, major, local woman and trainee Chinese policeman. (Again, don’t ask.)
But the centrepiece of Puckoon is Boyd. His narration enriches the work as much as his musical compositions - while narrating can easily be seen as an expositional crutch, it's perfect for this story about a story. The bemusing and amusing moment when his otherwise dry and factual delivery becomes laced with confusion, as he tries to maintain pacing during a period of inaction for the other actors, is arguably the epitome of this highly entertaining work"
"Somewhere north east of Sligo lies the sleepy village of Puckoon with three policemen, a graveyard, a pub and a host of eccentric madcap characters. It’s the location for Spike Milligan’s comic novel that was dramatised after his death by Vincent Higgins and performed by Big Telly Theatre Company. Their revival of the show is currently touring Britain and Ireland.
Paul Boyd (“The Writer”) superbly anchors the absurd show from behind a piano in the corner of the stage. The rest of the cast play tin whistles, ukuleles, guitars, drums, and sing along in-between nipping across the stage to act out scenes.
Paddy Jenkins plays Dan Milligan, a fictional fool who quickly reveals that the normal rules of theatre have been suspended – never mind the fourth wall broken – and argues back and forth about his role with The Writer. I’ve never seen a show with as many props, non sequiturs and raised eyebrows.
Patrick J O’Reilly and Keith Singleton act like a pair of eejits who switch genders and characters as if someone was snapping at a button on their remote control. They frustrate The Writer’s attempts to move the story on and are deservedly rewarded with some of the heartiest laughs of the night. Keith Singleton’s portrayal of an Ulster Unionist with loose dentures could be spun off into a whole show of its own. John O Mahony and Giles Stoakley complete the cast.
Having set up the quirky world of Puckoon, we reach the point when life in the village changes for ever. The Ulster Boundary Commission decide that the border will be somewhat arbitrarily drawn through the middle of the community, dividing the church from its graveyard. Add a border post, officious upholders of rules and bomb smugglers and the pandemonium unravels.
Lighting designer Kevin Smith has cunningly adapted some furniture props so beams of light illuminate actors’ faces from below. Along with the clouds of fog that eerily linger above the cast’s heads, the stained glass window effect adds to the set without cluttering the stage.
The randomness of Milligan’s writings is retained in the script, and the humour is simultaneously visual, physical and oral. And this is where Puckoon succeeds and The 39 Steps falters. Acting out a Hitchcock film on stage with only three actors is comical to watch, but Puckoon is imaginative in so many other dimensions.
While the original novel was written while in Australia, Puckoon appositely satirises Irish sensibilities about identity and state interference. The entertainment is novel, the performances full tilt, and the storyline as hard to unravel as Spike Milligan’s mind. Director Zoë Seaton and musical director/actor Paul Boyd have created a comical gem"
"From the word go Big Telly Theatre Company's production of Puckoon is an electric, exhausting, exciting and engaging piece of theatre , if you can even summarise it under such a narrow term as simply a ‘theatre’ piece. The actors in this production, double, triple and quadruple their roles, transforming themselves into dancers, musicians, choir members, set technicians and many more. Of course, anyone familiar with Spike Milligan knows to expect an absurd two hours of relentlessly demanding yet uproarious stage time, similarly those who aren’t so familiar with his work are in for the show of their lives.
Puckoon opens with the narrator, come writer, come lead musician played by Paul Boyd setting the scene for us: Ireland in 1922, during the time of the border partition, the small town of Puckoon is about to be torn apart, quite literally, by the division of Ireland. Throw in a work shy alcoholic protagonist, a Chinese Gardi officer, a pub with 3ft in the North and the rest in the South, a corrupt Priest and two daft IRA members and you have yourself a recipe for Milligan inspired chaos. We are introduced to such a broad range of characters within the opening minutes of the show that it sets the bar for the hectic and bonkers nature of what’s to come. The cast gel together with such unity it’s obvious that this piece has been in production for some time. With Northern Irish gems such as Paddy Jenkins playing the clumsy and lazy protagonist Dan Milligan, whose life is controlled by the actions of The Writer, to the multi character performances from Keith Singleton, Patrick O’Reilly, Giles Stoakley and John O Mahoney Puckoon’s cast a collection of the finest talents NI has to offer.
As an introduction to Milligan, it’s a fantastic way to dip your toe into his absurdist world. The show is a chaotic experience from start to finish. Working across the board the cast never once let the momentum of the piece relax, something essential in such a fast paced show as it allows the audience to be gripped and fully enthralled in the ever complicated story. Each scene seems to somehow stumble into the next, each costume change, set change, musical accompaniment, dance routine all carried out by the exposed cast members acts a seamless and smooth counterpart to the constructed onstage madness. You can’t help at times, but to be on the edge of your seat throughout the performance, whilst the actors never allow their energy to drop, it’s hard not to see that it must be an exhausting production to pull off. From acrobatic stunts to musical numbers involving 4 costume changes in as many minutes, per cast member, you can’t help but be as anxious as you are impressed throughout this eclectic offering.
Whether you’re an avid Milligan fan, or a complete novice to his work, this production is a must see if not least for the hilarious break down of the 4th wall which allows the audience to feel as much a part of the show as the cast themselves. Be ready to laugh until your cheeks are sore!"
"They say there is a thin line between insanity and genius and Big Telly's adaptation of Spike Milligan's novel ‘Puckoon’ demonstrates how very thin that line is, and how very easy it is to jump back and forth across that line with a silly grin on one's face.
Set in 1922, the Boundary Commission inadvertently divide the small village of Puckoon in their haste to get to the pub. This leaves Catholics buried in the now English part of the churchyard requiring passports for the duration of their stay, and the ensuing plan to repatriate them is also an opportunity for two inept IRA men to smuggle explosives across the border in coffins - oh yes, and beer is cheaper in the corner of the pub which falls on the other side of the line.
In this string of absurd comedy sketches, through which emerges a sharp satirical swipe at Partition, there are boy scouts performing Julius Caesar, a singing Chinese police officer, a lazy Irishman, a corrupt priest and a Hasidic village doctor. Take heed though - Milligan once said, "I'm not racist. I hate everybody", so it doesn't stop there and there is also a lisping Orangeman who spits out dentures, Murphy's face that looks like one of his own potatoes and something to do with a midget's widow.
This very ridiculous concoction wears its Goon Show credentials on its sleeve and the cast of six deliver the anarchy with great energy. Most of the cast play instruments as well as taking on upward of six characters sometimes playing more than one in a scene. Glen Kinch is spot on as he darts from being Dr Goldstein on one side of the stage to the British officer on the other making it all look so easy, whilst Bryan Quinn's split second transition in and out of the Mrs O'Toole character is comically brilliant.
John O'Mahony is a natural as the priest who could have come off the set of Father Ted and Russell Morton has us in stitches as the singing Chinese policeman. The story, if you can call it that, is held together by narration from The Writer, played with frustrated deadpan by Paul Boyd, and Jack Walsh as the feckless Dan Milligan who wants to have better legs written into the play, both of whom are very funny indeed.
Director Zoe Seaton keeps the pace up, essential when delivering madcap comedy like this which will appeal to Goon fans as well as lovers of absurdist humour and anyone who hasn't lost the joy of untrammelled silliness”
"It is easy see why this rumbustious romp of a show has been a huge hit barnstorming around Ireland. The wildly talented company of six actor-musicians attack Spike Milligan’s absurd comic novel with inspired physical gusto, all of them playing several instruments and roles, often hopping to and fro from one to the other. At one point pianist Paul Boyd plays two characters simultaneously and has a conversation with himself!
Boyd as musical director, narrator and music hall style chairman battles to referee the anarchic mayhem as this tall tale of the small village of Puckoon that falls foul of the boundary commission during the partition of Ireland in 1922 unravels. Due to an administrative glitch the new border runs right through their sleepy community, separating the church from its graveyard and even cutting the pub in two. Whatsmore, beer is thirty percent cheaper at the Republican end of the bar!
Add to this heady mix the IRA smuggling arms, a bit of body snatching and a plethora of eccentric comic characters and you have the surreal and whacky world of ‘Puckoon’”
"There was a full second's pause of perplexed silence at the end of ‘Puckoon’ before the Belfast Waterfront audience burst into rapturous applause. That was the tenor of the whole show: constantly caught between confusion and delight. The band of multi-talented actors and musicians took the audience on a surreal rampage, loosely based on the Spike Milligan novel. The show's subtitle is 'a simple tale of Irish folk bordering on the ridiculous', but ‘Puckoon’, which is dramatised by Vincent Higgins, doesn't just border on the ridiculous. It takes the concept, turns it upside down, ties a silly hat on it and gives it a kick up the arse for good measure.
It's not just silly slapstick though. There's plenty of crackling wit, maudlin philosophising and sheer theatrical anarchy in there too. The action is set in Ireland, June 1922, and the Ulster Boundary Commission has drawn the new border right through the little town of Puckoon. The graveyard has been sliced in half and the locals left huddled in the corner of a pub, where the drink is now 30% cheaper. A stand-off develops in the graveyard, where deceased inhabitants now require an Irish passport, renewed annually, for the duration of their stay.
The central figure, around whom the craziness revolves, is feckless layabout Dan Milligan (Jack Walsh). He's accompanied by a bewildering range of small-town characters – including Dr Sean Goldstein, Mrs O'Toole, Sergeant MacGillikudie, Blind George, Croucher and Murphy, whose gormless face is 'a replica of the King Edward potatoes he grows'. All characters are brought to life by the 6-strong cast, who throw hats, shirts, overcoats and even facial expressions (from dopey to cunning) on and off at lightning speed as they shift between personas. There's scant regard for political correctness, especially when it comes to the trainee Chinese policeman (best not ask).
Part of the delirious chaos stems from the fact that this is a play which refuses to behave itself and just be a play. Just as in Milligan's novel, the narrator – known here as The Writer - occasionally abandons his authorial role to engage in discussion with Dan about the state of his legs, which Dan claims haven't been written very well. He'd be happier with a better-scripted pair. This is carried off with such great humour that it doesn't come across as self-consciously knowing or clever-clever. What really adds another dimension to ‘Puckoon’, though, is the music. Again showing enormous versatility, the actors also turn out to be dab hands at the ukelele, flute, tin whistle, accordion, harmonica and drums – sometimes simultaneously.
At the piano, Paul Boyd (aka The Writer), in an outsized, floppy wine-coloured bow-tie, holds it all together – just about. He struggles manfully to keep the play afloat, at one point sighing, 'you don't get this at the Lighthouse Family' [who were playing next door, Ed.] An observation which gets a roar of laughter from the audience. Somewhere towards the end, Dan Milligan asks, 'what's this play all about anyway, with all these people coming and going?' There is no answer to that question, but you're laughing so much that you don't care"
"It took the satirical genius of Spike Milligan to identify the hugely comic possibilities lurking beneath the surface of the 1924 Border Commission’s machinations to draw a frontier between Britain (in the shape of Northern Ireland) and what was then known as the Irish Free State.
Vincent Higgins, Zoe Seaton, Paul Boyd and the company have clearly had a rare old time in adapting Milligan’s internationally successful novel into a rip-roaring piece of physical theatre which is hugely entertaining. In the role of the confused writer, Boyd provides the on-stage compass, supplying ad hoc music and script for the haphazard journey of old Dan Milligan (Jack Quinn), whose cycling exploits along the border are the cause of many an unforeseen disaster.
The other four actor/musicians rarely leave the black box of a stage, zipping between costumes and characters like men possessed. Conleth White’s clever lighting is an integral part of a glossy production which looks great, even when outrageous events threaten to get in the way"
"When director Zoe Seaton and musical maestro Paul Boyd get together, something a little crazy often results. Their collective gaze has fallen enthusiastically on the madcap genius of Spike Milligan, comedian, writer, musician, playwright, poet and Goon. His best-selling novel ‘Puckoon’ has already been adapted into a film; now Seaton, Boyd and Vincent Higgins have turned it into a fast-moving, Pythonesque piece of theatre.
In the role of writer, Boyd spearheads proceedings, scripting the whimsical wanderings of old Dan Milligan (Jack Quinn) along the Border on a rickety bicycle. The problem for the people of Puckoon is that, late on a Friday evening in the pub, their little patch of Ireland was divided, when the dreaded commissioners’ pencil was pushed and shoved down the centre of the village.
Now the erection of Border posts and barbed wire means even funerals cannot be held without passports being produced, a situation that deteriorates from farce to slapstick to total chaos. The six actors switch roles and costumes at dizzying speed and with relish for the task. Milligan’s vision is an oddball entertainment"
"Big Telly’s adaptation of Spike Milligan’s comic novel ‘Puckoon’ is touring NI in advance of its debut at London’s Leicester Square Theatre. On its performance in Belfast in the studio at the Waterfront Hall, the house was close to capacity and the mix of oddball characters, physical comedy and hilarious songs made for an at least 60% standing ovation.
The novel is packed with a huge range of eccentrics, leaving the cast of just six the unenviable task of filling a plethora of roles - sometimes hilariously playing both sides of a single conversation. The quick-fire switches between characters are deftly performed with tongues firmly in cheek. The frantic highpoint of this role-switching features the majority of characters at a town meeting, requiring each actor to switch hats, accents and moustaches with dizzying speed. The scene is a tribute to the cast - each caricature is so well drawn that each is immediately identifiable from a single word or gesture.
The plot of ‘Puckoon’ becomes a secondary consideration as pure comedic spectacle dominates the audience’s attention. At times the staging is deliberately shambolic with actors scurrying off stage in a huff and our narrator - the superbly talented Paul Boyd - having to join in as a player. The adaptation is a faithful and fitting tribute to the comic genius of Milligan and Big Telly are clearly channelling the spirit and energy of the Goon show in its performance. Thoroughly recommended for any fan of Milligan’s brand of absurdist wit”
“The pace of this mad caper about the drawing of the border which separated the North Eastern corner of Ireland from the Southern Free State, leaving the former as part of Britain, is hard to keep up with. It helps to know something about Irish history. I heard several amusing conversations in the interval while the audience tried to puzzle the matter out, but such knowledge, or lack of it is no barrier to enjoying the crazy comedy and silliness of Spike Milligan at his most absurd and irreverent best. Early on in the play, it is declared that 'everyone gets a go', and indeed many crude racial stereotypes get an outing, including a Jewish Dr Goldstein (Glen Kinch), a Chinese Garda Ah Pong (Russell Morton), every stage Irishman and woman you can imagine and the usual stock British military types.
Puckoon is a tiny village ('situated several and a half metric miles north east of Sligo') through which the incompetent British Boundary Commission draw their line, leaving a portion of the graveyard and the public house in Britain. This means that some of Ireland's dearly departed need passports and annually renewable visas to be buried, so a plot is hatched by terrifying Father Rudden (John O'Mahony) to dig them up and re-inter them on Irish soil. Also, drink is cheaper in the British part of the pub so the whole village crams itself into that corner, to the disgust of the publican and his wife, both played by the versatile quick change artist Bryan Quinn, perhaps the funniest man on stage. The plot is held together by Jack Walsh as the feckless, lazy Dan Milligan who continually questions The Writer, played by Paul Boyd at the piano, on why he cannot write him some more attractive legs. All other actors are required to play a number of parts with great comic effect, as many are on stage at the same time, requiring a great flurry of hat changing mid-scene. Russell Morton tries a coffin for size as O'Brien the IRA man, but emerges sensationally decked out as Chinaman Ah Pong to do a great song and dance number which brought the house down. The cast worked their costumes off, literally in the case of Bryan Quinn as Sergeant MacGillikudie, who kept replacing his green tinsel Hitler moustache from a stash behind his hat as they dropped off continually, what with all the sweating the poor man was doing. All this and so many gags, from the obvious to the sophisticated, it was a richly entertaining performance in which the cast put all of their considerable talent into play.
Props, including a bike, cardboard coffins, tombstones that doubled as chairs and a half door, were put to creative use. The musicianship of the cast was a real pleasure as they combined to form a band behind Paul Boyd to start and finish the show. Left alone on stage by a cast fed up with his manic directions, Paul Boyd is forced to do a bit of hat swopping himself in a delightful little cameo. Spike Milligan's real affection for a peculiarly Irish sang-froid is celebrated in the laid-back character of Dan Milligan. This is a great show for fans of his work and a great introduction for the uninitiated”
“It was once said that the way Spike had written ‘Puckoon’ it would be impossible to transfer it to the stage or screen. Not so this ‘Puckoon’ as created by Big Telly Theatre Company. It was glorious and as Silé (Spike's daughter who was sitting just a few seats away from me said), "Dad would have loved it!".
The cast of five were most ably attended by Paul Boyd, sitting at his keyboard and playing little musical interludes to one side of the stage and himself very much a part of the proceedings as the Narrator. At one point he needs someone to play the part of Julius Caesar and as all the other actors are busy he has to do it himself in his best Italian voice. Very funny.
Talking of the cast of five, they not only play themselves in the main roles but they also play dozens of other 'parts' along the way, seamlessly switching between characters at the drop of a hat. In one very funny exchange Bryan Quinn (using just a red neckerchief) changes from a man (kerchief round his neck) to a woman (kerchief on his head as a scarf) in the blink of an eye and a turn of his heel. He even ends up talking to himself in both voices. Tremendous. John O'Mahoney is wonderful as Fr. Rudden (he was in the Christmas episode of Father Ted on C4 so that was perfect casting) along with his other characters Blind George Devine, Mrs. Doonan and so on. Russell Morton switches between Ah Pong the Chinese policeman and Lenny (with the arse out of his trousers) in an instant just by walking through an on-stage 'door'. He also plays O'Brien and Foggerty the village idiot brilliantly. Talking of Ah Pong, there is a very funny (hilarious) scene where Lenny lays in the coffin to try it out for size and when it is finally re-opened (having been in full view of the audience all along) it is Ah Pong who pops up, complete with silly Chinese grin. The song that he then gives us (accompanied by Paul Boyd and the rest of the cast who can all play several musical instruments very efficiently) is a wonder to behold, and as for his leaping along with his little Chinese legs popping out the top of the coffin it's all-in-all a masterpiece of comic acting. Jack Walsh played the straggly-bearded Dan Milligan with great effect, even using his own legs as the props in the opening scenes "Ah!, I tink I'll bronze me limbs” which introduces the Narrator into the story when he (Milligan) accuses him of writing "crappy" legs… and the narrator promises to improve things and at least make sure that Dan comes out of it alive. Glen Kinch (a self-confessed Goon Show fanatic) was excellent in all his roles, turning from the extremely 'jewish-looking' Dr. Goldstein into The Major, Captain Clarke and many others by simply putting on a different hat or jacket and spinning around into his new character.
Having met Spike many times I knew myself that he would have whole-heartedly approved. An excellent production that deserves to be seen by a much wider UK audience. The whole ensemble were superb and I'd like to say more but I'm running out of superlatives so I think I'll end by saying that it was quite simply, marvellous”
"Anyone who has ever read Spike Milligan’s comedy classic will have dismissed as impossible the idea of transferring such slapstick madness to the stage. The story of the town of Puckoon, rent in two by the Boundary Commission, is brim-full of laughs – but its forays down comic cul-de-sacs often turn a straightforward story into a series of madcap meanderings.
Unlikely as it seems on paper, Big Telly’s Zoe Seaton, Vincent Higgins and Paul Boyd, have breathed new life into ‘Puckoon’, bringing the central character of cycling Dan Milligan (Jack Quinn) to life. The trio have imposed a certain degree of discipline on the townsfolk, who are forced to obtain passports to bury their dead, travel to another country to cuddle with the missus, and sidestep border guards in search of a drink. Think League of Gentlemen meets Monty Python.
Boyd plays the role of writer, and literally conducts proceedings from his keyboard at the centre of the stage, while providing live accompaniment to the story. He is supported by four actor/musicians, who play a clutch of characters and tunes between them – from a midget’s widow to greedy priest, soft-handed captain, boozy barmaid and one-legged war hero. Seaton’s watertight direction brings some much-needed element of control to this comic chaos. Even the silliest of Milligan’s surreal wisecracks raises a chuckle and a good time was had by all … except the midget, of course"
"A capacity audience enjoyed that old Coleraine firm Big Telly giving a robust revival of Spike Milligan’s comedy 'Puckoon'. The adaptation was by practiced hand Vincent Higgins, and the pace was break-neck, while amid the general Goon Show nonsense the narrative was still discernable. Ms.Seaton chose a knockabout music hall style where the characters declaimed loudly and (blessed boon!) distinctly to us, the fortunate audience. No mumbling here or excuse to snooze!
But 'Puckoon' is more than a bundle of delicious “Oirish” inconsequential nonsense. All this was presided over by the composer Paul Boyd at the piano, complete with Lizst-like flowing hair and floppy bow. He was an ace MC, keeping us up to date on the plot behind the confusions, commanding the luckless Milligan and demonstrating his mastery of the piano all with great sense of purpose.
In short, Big Telly and a dream team have a hit on their hands. The audience cheered and cheered. If this had been mounted on either side of the Border five years ago it would have deeply offended at least one overly-sensitive political party. Thankfully all were now united in helpless laughter"
“The vivid green lighting on the set as the audience enter the auditorium sets the tone for the performance of ‘Puckoon’: this is a text and a show that self-consciously makes fun with concepts of Ireland and “Irishness”. ‘Puckoon’ has been adapted by Vincent Higgins from Spike Milligan’s novel of the same name, and devised by Big Telly Theatre Company from Higgins’ script under the direction of Zoe Seaton. Set in the eponymous village in 1924, the story tells of the plight of the community when the Boundary Commission accidentally divides it in half: most of the village is in the new Free State, but the graveyard and part of the bar is in Northern Ireland.
The village of Puckoon is represented with cleverly-designed, multi-use props that mark out the key areas: the graveyard, a door to the domestic spaces, and the village green where a bike lies on its side. Costumes hang on a rack downstage right, behind a wooden structure that functions as a bandstand and occasionally as a sentry post.
The rambling anarchy of Spike Milligan’s work is preserved in the play by Big Telly’s characteristically physical performance style and imaginative approach to the quirks of the source text. The playing of multiple roles and rapid-fire character changes showcase some excellent, witty performances by the cast.
This clever, fast-paced, popular production has been selling out on tour and is being invited back to a number of venues. A funny and highly entertaining show, its light-hearted take on Irish history and the fun it pokes at all sides give it mass appeal”
"Big Telly’s stage adaptation of Puckoon is certainly a very funny and zany treat. The play stays true to the essence of Spike Milligan’s comic novel with its surreal and chaotic humour, whilst bringing it to life on stage.
Portstewart based Big Telly Theatre Company certainly doesn’t shy away from taking on a production that has only six actors playing 40 odd different characters and Puckoon sees the actors playing several parts each (some even in the one scene). This all adds to the rambunctious nature of the production, but it doesn’t stop there, they all also have to play the music in the band and move the props themselves. The music, which is very appropriate is by the talented Paul Boyd who also plays the part of The Writer on stage.
Based on the 1962 book by Spike Milligan the play is set in 1922 at the time of partition in Ireland. The Border Commission, in a rush to get to the pub before it closes, has drawn the border straight through the tiny Irish village of Puckoon. This inadvertently leads to various anomalies, like part of the bar being in Ulster and having cheaper beer and Catholics ending up buried on the wrong side of the new border. What ensues is a riotous series of situations based loosely around two bungling IRA men trying to smuggle arms in a coffin while the bodies are brought back to their own side of the border.
The set is simple with the few props cleverly reused in different ways. Paul Boyd narrates and holds the play together from behind his keyboard. Paddy Jenkins is a pleasure to watch as the work-shy Dan Milligan, and Patrick O’Reilly, Keith Singleton, John O Mahoney and Giles Stoakley all give wonderfully funny and impressive multi-character performances.
If you know nothing about Spike Milligan or Puckoon, don’t worry, this is a hilarious, frantic and chaotic play that will have you laughing throughout. But if you, like me, read Puckoon a very long time ago and have precious memories of it, then don’t worry either, for this production by Big Telly Theatre Company captures the comic genius of Spike’s book and brings it all crazily to life. Now, where is that old copy of Puckoon…"