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Walk This Way

Playwright Roy Smiles pays tribute to the groundbreaking BBC Radio comedy series, The Goon Show with Ying Tong -- A Walk With the Goons. logo
David Beach and Ed Jewett in
Ying Tong -- A Walk With the Goons
(© Jim Roese)
"Spike Milligan is as important in the British development of humor as Lenny Bruce was to American humor," declares Roy Smiles, the playwright of Ying Tong -- A Walk With the Goons, currently receiving its U.S. premiere at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. The play, which was first performed in England, focuses on Milligan, who was the main writer for the groundbreaking BBC Radio comedy series, The Goon Show, which co-starred Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine.

Smiles has fond memories of sitting with his brother, and listening to The Goon Show in the 1970s. "It was so surreal and wild," he says. "They were attacking the pomposity and hypocrisy of British society -- just the sort of thing for kids who were a little dubious about England, it's former Empire, and it's repressive class system."

The play draws from historical facts -- including Milligan's nervous breakdown during the run of the show -- while also creating original material in the style of the Goons. "It's quite hard to try and get a balance between being respectful to the Goons legend and expressing your own ideas," says the playwright. "Act One deals with Milligan being assailed by creatures from his id: Morris Dancers, leprechauns, mad Dr. Strangelove scientists. Act Two deals with Milligan re-creating a Goon Show in his head to destroy all the characters and free himself of the pressure of writing the show."

Smiles has made a few small changes for the American version of the play, eliminating some of the more obscure British references. But fans of the radio program will be pleased to note that the play incorporates several of the Goon Show characters. Says Smiles: "Hopefully, it comes over as someone who was a huge fan of the show doing his own version of it."

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