Last week we went to Birmingham Rep to see Spike Milligan’s “Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall”, the first part of Milligan’s six-book war memoirs. As you might expect, these aren’t your usual war memoirs; there is fighting, but there is also music and humour too. In this clever adaptation, the roots of Milligan’s Goon Show humour are apparent in the absurd (and often delightfully daft) comedy, but this light side is juxtaposed with the darker side of war, the deaths of fellow soldiers as well as the fighting, for which Milligan and friends appear deeply unprepared.
The play tells its tale through a mixture of sketches which are done in an “entertaining the troops” style, songs (some funny and some popular contemporary tunes), and explanations from Milligan himself, played by Sholto Morgan (and apparently it was his first professional lead, played with remarkable assuredness). It’s become a cliche now that the British are stoical in the face of difficulties and deal with difficult situations by turning it into comedy, and Milligan’s memoirs are an excellent example of that; he doesn’t pretend it wasn’t difficult, sometimes horrible, but instead he makes a joke of his fear, whilst not diminishing the horror of war. Yet the comedy prevails, of course, and it’s difficult not to leave with a smile on your face.