Assembly Hall, Shoreditch Town Hall (****)
Everyone likes a clown and Spymonkey must be amongst the best. Certainly to fill the main hall in the beautiful arts centre that was once Shoreditch Town Hall takes some following. Amazingly this is my first viewing of them but their credits stack up.
The Bard must have had many tributes this 400th anniversary year but none quite as irreverent and madcap as this. Yet there’s also method in the madness and I for one most enjoyed it when adaptor Tim Crouch stirred the pot and threw in a few piquant bitter musings, starting off, for example by Toby Park’s belligerently hostile address to the audience about the pap that popular entertainment has become. `If you think that’s what you’ve come to see tonight, you’re in for a big mistake’. Throughout, Park, amongst many other guises, plays the curmudgeonly Marxist, shooting out barbed socialist commentaries from time to time and eventually getting fired for his pains.
Yes, they really do get through 75 deaths, some more grizzly that others, some outrageous such as the bloodbath that is Titus Andronicus which becomes in Spymonkey’s hands a great big pie making machine a la Sweeney Todd.
But mostly it’s contained, controlled mayhem, plenty of slapstick – a very bloody self-mocking take on Pina Bausch and `Living Art’ – a wonderful video mash-up using Olivier’s bloody end as Richard III on Bosworth Field, and the multiple massacres in the Scottish play, represented by the cast with rubbery kilts involved in keystone cops chases and fights with plastic protuberances.
Using video cams and video projection for his Nibs, the Bard of Avon – a la Monty Python – interestingly, I found the most poignant the death of a small fly – symbol of our mortality – which becomes the show’s connecting theme, at once strange, beguiling, a source of hilarity but in its death throes, acute and painful.
So, if you want laugh out loud relief or pleasure mixed with cynicism and a spot of existential angst, The Complete Deaths is for you. Went down a treat with the Shoreditch Hall crowd, in an area Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe and the rest would surely have recognised as a familiar stew; buzzing, louche, extraordinary.
Spymonkey’s The Complete Deaths runs at Shoreditch Town Hall to Oct 1, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, Sept 2016
The Complete Deaths presented by Spymonkey
Adapted by Tim Crouch
Petra Massey & Toby Park
Adapted & directed by: Tim Crouch
Designed by: Lucy Bradbridge
Music composed and recorded by: Toby Park
Lighting design by: Phil Supple
Video design & bard: Sam Bailey
Assistant director: Lucy Skilbeck
Voice Coach: Nia Lynn (for RSC)
Pina Bausch choreography: Theo Clinkard
Cleopatra choreography: Janine Fletcher
Additional Pyramus bagpipe music by: Rohan Kriwaczek
A Spymonkey co-production with Brighton Festival and Royal & Derngate Northampton
Produced by Emily Coleman
First performance of The Complete Deaths at Shoreditch Town Hall, London Sept 20, 2016.
First perf at Brighton Festival, May 11, 2016.