Skip to main content

Review of The Complete Deaths (First Preview) by Spymonkey at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Seven hundred and forty-two days ago (it is on my medical record), I last witnessed Spymonkey and suffered a hallucinating experience of the most extreme kind, I was back for more last night and I relapsed so seriously that I was seeing clowns and bubbles. This was probably just me? Maybe.

Another significant number on offer yesterday was one hundred and thirty-two. These were the years to the very day that the Royal Theatre had opened its doors with a performance of Twelfth Night. So what better for an evening of seventy-five (no more numbers now) corpses on the Royal stage courtesy of the mad collective known as Spymonkey to celebrate the Bard of Avon's collection of work?

When entering the auditorium things are already afoot, we have cast members Petra Massey and Stephen Kreiss doing things with a fly on a stick, some a little repulsive, and wielding a camera to show the gory details on a vast back screen. To the left we have a slightly miserable lady doing her knitting and guarding a number counter, you can easily imagine what the number represents. The set suitably enough represents an abattoir, all plastic draps for easy clean. A handy display above keeps us up to date over who is next for the chop.

The Complete Deaths is, if you haven't already guessed from this rambling preamble, Spymonkey's creation of all the deaths of William Shakespeare's plays, on stage mind. No Ophelia here. They do it in an apparently random style, often grouping batches of characters from different plays and dispatching. Others they become incredibly inventive with.

So we have an immense mincing machine, shades of Sweeney Todd to remove the characters from the blood strewn Titus Andronicus, while a ballet/contemporary dance routine puts pay to the characters of Macbeth. There is also a brilliant multi dispatch scene involving the cast beating each other with tubes. It moves from minor audience bashing, to magical music and ends with a wondrous arras joke.

Perhaps the best scenes include those featuring Romeo and Juliet, with death bringing about immensely awkward and funny positions, and the appearance of the very best costume of the night donned by Kreiss. There is a quite wondrous miniature scene to create the death of Cinna the Poet from Julias Caesar. There is magical shadow play and odd shaped hooters for Othello. While a knockout one of exceptional brilliance, probably the best, brings the end to Cleopatra, fabulous choreography from Janine Fletcher.

There is for me a little dead wood in some scenes, with a few going on too long. However this could almost be described as a sketch play, and like the equivalent on television or radio, you are never far from another idea. Often one that you will love and potentially allow the one you didn't to pass quietly into history. The strength with The Complete Deaths is in its invention, there are plenty of ideas and most of them hit the target.

There is also a tremendous amount of danger and commitment from the performers which you have to be fully appreciative of. Even the added danger of audience participation became a gem of a piece, both because the frankly unwilling at first, George was superb and the incredible Aitor Basauri handled the situation brilliantly. If I was going to choose a favourite performer of the group, it would be my modern day Peter Sellers, Basauri, he is the most perfect clown.

Completing the line-up is Toby Park, the straight man, if one is possible in Spymonkey. He mostly remains a calm and guiding light for his idea of the show, until it all becomes explosive later in the second half. This is perhaps where the play moves into a certain amount of danger, as it does become a little self indulgent of their own history. It works certainly and allows utter madness to occur on the stage, however it will payoff most for those that have delighted in Spymonkey for many, many years. Others may wonder at times if they have been left out of the joke.

So The Complete Deaths is not perfect theatre, however it is what I like my theatre to be (unlike a very recent offering), brave, bold, and absolutely brimming with creativity. New ideas are what should drive the theatre and Spymonkey have certainly come up with a bag full of those and throw in much performing in pants and flashes of gratuitous nudity. Going by some of the noises that were emanating from the audience last night, they were loving it all. I feared for the lives of some around me at times. A theatre piece of the most bizarre kind, but one that you really should catch.

★★★★

Performance reviewed: Thusday 5th May, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

The Complete Deaths is on at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 7th May, 2016 before continuing its tour. Details can be found at http://www.spymonkey.co.uk/the-complete-deaths.html

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two. Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me. The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well. When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c