Brighton Festival 2016
A company of clowns decide to be serious and stage all of Shakespeare’s on stage deaths. They fail at being serious and make us laugh for two hours. A highly entertaining theatre experience.
Directed by Tim Crouch, Spymonkey have devised a new production in which four clowns stage all of Shakespeare’s on stage deaths in two hours, commemorating Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. Toby Park, the spokesperson for the company begins the show by eloquently insulting and sneering at us for being so smug in our theatre seats, going to see Spymonkey in the Brighton Festival and living in our mediocre, bourgeois existence where we pay to be entertained. But they are not entertainers this time, no they are not even funny, they are agitators who are here to wake us up from our complacency.
As we giggle, despite the fact he seems deadly serious, his company: Stephan Kreiss, Aitor Basauri and Petra Massey wait like the bored children of an embarrassing parent, pulling faces and are clearly waiting to have some fun. It’s a great set up for a fall and two hours of laughter!
The journey of the company glues together a variety show of set pieces which delightfully pay homage to at least 25 different theatre styles, from traditional melodrama to Japanese minimalism, the contemporary dance version of Macbeth, and moments of utter theatrical exhilaration and brilliance with the gothic Richard the Third whose horses enter in a blaze of lighting and music with gas masks for the horses heads.
Lucy Bradridge deserves a huge mention as the company’s designer for a catalogue of different outfits as witty as the script and the actors. A seventeenth Century Shakespearian outfit with pink fluffy cod-piece. Plastic kilts for Macbeth, with fake genitalia and ginger chest hair for the female actor. A giant mincemeat machine where the actors end up in the grim horror show that is Titus Andronicus.
The comedy also touches on many genres, it returns to the clown scenario of a company of four who fail miserably at being serious, but it also contains slapstick, visual poetry, genuinely poignant moments and also the tragedy is performed so truthfully that when we are not laughing we could genuinely enjoy the verse and the performances. It would not be a Spymonkey show without gasps, shouts and screams of laughter and of these, there were plenty.
Toby Parks journey of earnest seriousness is repeatedly ruined by Petra’s requests to pay Ophelia, whose death is not eligible as it happens off stage. Aitor, the Spaniard who just ‘looks fat but isn’t fat’ is in dialogue with Shakespeare’s head projected onto the back screen. He learns how to be more English, how to be a true Shakespearian actor who can roll his rr’s and spit as he speaks. He fails at being a thoroughbred british actor and is cursed by Shakespeares head. Stephan Kreiss is trying his best to woo Petra who he has worked with for eighteen years and meanwhile Toby Park is becoming more and more furious at his company who reject him. There is a lot for the theatre maker in this show, including the dynamics of a company and the different mistakes we can make in our earnest attempts to be serious or political.
I do wonder how many laughs may be missed by a non theatre making audience, I laughed a lot in recognition as I saw some of the theatre fads I had once engaged in looking at their most ridiculous and pompous. Also some of the Shakespearian references demanded a knowledge of the play, but Shakespeare is a huge part of our culture and heritage and I believe this treatment of his tragedies really does celebrate the existential question at the heart of all his works. What is it to live and what is it to die? To have the opportunity to collectively think on death for two hours and to laugh, is genuinely cathartic- the original reason tragedy was made by the Ancient Greeks.