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Brighton Festival 2012



Genre: Physical Theatre


Theatre Royal


Low Down

The award-winning Spymonkey troupe wrap up the highly successful tour of their irreverent look at Sophocles’ classic Theban play about patricide and incest. 


There are many words that have been used to describe Spymonkey’s legendary performances; anarchic, base, brilliant, lewd, hysterical, crude, insane, genius, etc. and all of them were equally appropriate to this production. Expectations were high, after last year’s stellar performance, and it was a full house.

Inspired by a particularly poor review by Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman of their Moby Dick production, the group of “Middle-aged actors”—sitting around a table—determine to be “Anything but safe” by tackling one of theatre’s greatest plays.

Throughout the show the actors break the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly, revealing fractures within the company and their own neurosis and narcissism. Petra Massey is evocative of a young Tracy Ullman, believing the whole play is an analogy for her own life—“It’s not all about you!” snaps the perpetually exasperated Toby Park.

At one point Stephan Kreiss (playing an oversexed adolescent Oedipus) breaks out of character to bemoan the fact that he has to rely on painkillers to keep up with the exhausting physical comedy, “I mean, look at me! I’m a 50-year-old German man playing a 17-year-old Greek boy!” However, having unavoidably seen the entire cast nearly, or entirely in some cases, naked at some point in the show, they are, in fact, all incredibly fit—even Aitor “I look fat, but I’m not fat” Basauri.

Michael Vale’s cleverly minimalist, but multi-functional, set design—based on Greek columns—was used highly effectively, with the cast running up and down, through, and all over it—and even kicking it to bits.

The cast actually stick quite closely to the original play’s structure, albeit with ludicrous caricatures of King Laius and Queen Joscasta (Oedipus’ real parents) as ’70s space disco divas; the “ghetto queen” half-cat/half-woman Sphinx; and the plague-ridden puppet population of Thebes singing “Leprosy’s no joke.”

But there are jokes, and lots of them. The visual slapstick and wordplay were piled so high, and layered so thick and fast that it was easy to miss the odd gag under the audience’s laughter. But there were some real moments of genuine tragedy in there as well, and the climax was as powerful as anything the RSC could put on (minus the sex gags). Many agreed that taking on such heavyweight pieces in such a lightweight manner was reminiscent of The National Theatre of Brent, which is no bad thing.

The tempo increases as the shows frenetic pace reaches its crescendo, leaving the four actors back at the table, shaken, stunned—an amusingly shell-shocked spent force.

While perhaps not quite as good as last year’s offering, Love In, it’s still the best thing this reviewer has seen all festival and Spymonkey remain at the top of the current pantheon of British clowns.

Playing to a packed home-crowd it was unsurprising that the hilarious quartet delivered what was asked for and received a well-deserved standing ovation for their exhausting troubles