“So how was Surviving Spike?” my friends ask. “Awight!” I reply. I’ll never tire of that response. Never. However, to label Surviving Spike as merely alright would be an injustice. Much has been written and much has been made of Michael Barrymore’s appearance in Surviving Spike. The only discernible fact, as I see it, is that Surviving Spike is a very well written and very well acted play, which enjoyably glides through the life of Spike Milligan.
To call Surviving Spike Michael Barymore’s play would be another injustice. Jill Halfpenny, as Spike’s manager and friend is a guiding star who drives the story of Spike Milligan forward. Early on we learn how a temporary arrangement became a partnership which would last decades. Throughout Surviving Spike Halfpenny provides crucial structure, so we are able to follow the high and low points of Spike’s life. His generosity, sometimes to strangers, is a key theme; as are the turbulent relationships of Spike and Norma.
The stage is split between Norma’s desk and filing cabinets; Spike’s bedroom which visually portrays his musical and literary interests and a basic bed of the asylum and latterly hospital. The play’s sink or swim moment came halfway through when Barrymore is left on front of stage alone. Here he re-enacts the opening of one of Spike’s stand up performances. Barrymore is clearly lapping this up, as he directs the audience as his orchestra and cracks jokes which are truly timeless. This act gives Surviving Spike fresh impetus and carries the play toward its sad and emotive ending.
My one and only criticism would be the play is too nice at times; too much of a crowd pleaser. The full wrath and destruction which Spike could surely generate never fully materialises and despite one or two unpleasant moments I’m not sure the full difficulty of literally surviving Spike is ever clear.
A warm and genuinely deserved applause followed the end of Surviving Spike. Barrymore was the last to leave the stage, with a wave to the crowd and a heartfelt “Thank you Edinburgh”.
Worth a watch | One to miss
Surviving Spike is at the Assembly Rooms, George Street until the 25th August.