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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/

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