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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Adolf Hitler - My Part In His Downfall
Hampstead Theatre   Summer 2009

Spike Milligan was one of the funniest and maddest men who ever lived, and any show that offers a taste of his skewed humour is to be welcomed, even if in this case the taste is so small as to barely hint at the real thing.

In the 1970s and 1980s Spike wrote what were eventually seven thin volumes of wartime memoirs. While the first books were primarily comic spoofs, he got more serious as he went along, eventually producing what I think one of the best evocations of an ordinary soldier's experience.

Adapters Tim Carroll (who also directs) and Ben Power openly admit that they had to make radical cuts to reduce seven books down to a single short play, so any complaints I have about this or that episode being omitted are irrelevant. But what remains is sometimes insufficiently milliganesque in tone, only intermittently capturing the flavour of either the comic or serious memoirist.

One way Spike and his buddies kept their sanity was by forming a jazz combo, and Power and Carroll have chosen to make the band, even more than Spike himself, the play's protagonist. There are several musical numbers, with the acting cast also playing and singing, and the whole play is presented as if it were a variety show, with the plot scenes as comic sketches or stand-up routines.

The most successful sequences have Spike and the others turning serious moments into one-liners, cheeky comebacks or groaner jokes ('You can't swim in army boots.' - 'I know. There's not enough room.'), but there's just enough of that to make you wish there were a lot more.

And the adaptation doesn't capture the serious moments at all. Spike was shell-shocked in Italy, an experience that would affect his mental balance for the rest of his life, but it plays here as little more than a stubbed toe. (It does allow for one bit of clever staging that is wholly in the Milligan spirit. Spike's hospital bed is represented by a vertical plank that he stands against, holding a sheet in front of him. So the buddies who visit him lie on the floor, to retain the 90 degree relationship.)

Sholto Morgan plays Spike as a generic cheeky chappie, making no real attempt at imitation, which is fine. Dominic Gerrard, William Findley, David Morley Hale and Matthew Devereaux play various buddies, band members, officers and musical instruments.

A certain degree of shambolic meandering is true to the Milligan style, though Tim Carroll's direction and pacing could be a lot tighter, to the production's benefit.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Adolf Hitler - Hampstead 2009