From the word go Big Telly Theatre Companies production of Puckoon is an electric, exhausting, exciting and engaging piece of theatre, if you can even summarise it under such a narrow term as simply a ‘theatre’ piece. The actors in this production, double, triple and quadruple their roles, transforming themselves into dancers, musicians, choir members, set technicians and many more. Of course, anyone familiar with Spike Milligan knows to expect an absurd two hours of relentlessly demanding yet uproarious stage time, similarly those who aren’t so familiar with his work are in for the show of their lives.
Puckoon opens with the narrator, come writer, come lead musician played by Paul Boyd setting the scene for us: Ireland in 1922, during the time of the border partition, the small town of Puckoon is about to be torn apart, quite literally, by the division of Ireland. Throw in a work shy alcoholic protagonist, a Chinese Gardi officer, a pub with 3ft in the North and the rest in the South, a corrupt Priest and two daft IRA members and you have yourself a recipe for Milligan inspired chaos. We are introduced to such a broad range of characters within the opening minutes of the show that it sets the bar for the hectic and bonkers nature of what’s to come. The cast gel together with such unity it’s obvious that this piece has been in production for some time. With Northern Irish gems such as Paddy Jenkins playing the clumsy and lazy protagonist Dan Milligan, whose life is controlled by the actions of The Writer, to the multi character performances from Keith Singleton, Patrick O’Reilly, Giles Stoakley and John O Mahoney Puckoon’s cast a collection of the finest talents NI has to offer.
As an introduction to Milligan, it’s a fantastic way to dip your toe into his absurdist world. The show is a chaotic experience from start to finish. Working across the board the cast never once let the momentum of the piece relax, something essential in such a fast paced show as it allows the audience to be gripped and fully enthralled in the ever complicated story. Each scene seems to somehow stumble into the next, each costume change, set change, musical accompaniment, dance routine all carried out by the exposed cast members acts a seamless and smooth counterpart to the constructed onstage madness. You can’t help at times, but to be on the edge of your seat throughout the performance, whilst the actors never allow their energy to drop, it’s hard not to see that it must be an exhausting production to pull off. From acrobatic stunts to musical numbers involving 4 costume changes in as many minutes, per cast member, you can’t help but be as anxious as you are impressed throughout this eclectic offering. Whether you’re an avid Milligan fan, or a complete novice to his work, this production is a must see if not least for the hilarious break down of the 4th wall which allows the audience to feel as much a part of the show as the cast themselves. The show will be touring various dates around the UK and Ireland in the coming months and will be at The Mac Belfast until Saturday the 30th April. To find out more visit http://www.big-telly.com/ or https://themaclive.com/ for times and tickets and be ready to laugh until your cheeks are sore!