A Sockful of Custard is an affectionate tribute to troubled comic genius Spike Milligan which has a lot more laughter than tears.
The piece is anchored by an uncanny impersonation of Spike by Jeremy Stockwell. The voice is spot-on with its rapid mutterings that trail off into chirruping gibberish. His facial expressions are also extraordinarily faithful as Spike, standing centre stage in his pyjamas and fisherman’s cap, struggles to remain straight-faced in the middle of all the mayhem, always looking like he is about to burst into uncontrollable laughter – or floods of tears.
Chris Larner then has the challenge of playing everyone else in this broadly biographical tale that takes Spike from his childhood in India, through army service in North Africa to post-war London and the emergence of new kinds of comedy on the radio and television. We are treated to an imagined excerpt from The Goon Show with cameo appearances from Neddy Seagoon, Bluebottle, Eccles and the others, but we also share the agonies involved in shaping a script under the pressure of deadline.
The serious underlying theme of A Sockful of Custard is the tension between comic creativity – which spills out in mad, uncontrolled bursts – and the discipline required to produce a coherent piece of work. In an outburst towards the end, the performer rails against the writer and the constraints of time and structure that threaten to stifle any kind of experiment or playfulness in the theatre. Once this tirade is over, writer and performer congratulate each other on how well that bit went.
The hour and twenty minutes of the show pass pretty quickly, though there a couple of short longueurs. More time might have been given to looking at the darker side of Spike’s personality and the deep depressions that blighted his life. It was the price he paid, perhaps, for those periods of frantic creativity.
The conclusion might be a little starry-eyed, and some of it might not make much sense (or nonsense) to anyone under 50, but A Sockful of Custard is often very funny and always unpredictable - like the man himself.
August 1-27 (Not 13, 20) 20:00