Director: Cal McCrystal
Reviewer: Simon Topping
2019 marks the 20th anniversary of Spymonkey, the UK’s leading physical comedy ensemble. Based in Brighton they comprise a core creative ensemble of five leading international artists – artistic directors Toby Park, Petra Massey and Aitor Basauri, and associate artists Stephan Kreiss and designer Lucy Bradridge.
In celebration of this passing of time, in conjunction with Spymonkey’s very unique brand of physical buffoonery, Worthing Pavilion Theatre bring us Cooped: a demented take on the pulp gothic romance.
Described as Hitchcock’s Rebecca meets The Pink Panther, the crowd settle down and wait for the laughs to filter in. We don’t have to sit long in silence, as from the off Cooped supplies us with a myriad of fabulously warped characters, rip-roaring farce and some great moments of virtuoso physical comedy.
In this play within a play we see a washed up Spanish TV melodrama actor (Basauri), a catalogue model (Massey), has-been actor (Park) and crazy german physical theatre performer (Kriess) take on the roles of this psychological play, each one trying to outdo the other to garner attention.
The plot, such as it is, is that Laura (Massey) arrives at a typical Agatha Christie-like spooky mansion to work for the dashing Lord Forbes Murdston (Park). Both have a convoluted and tragic background, which makes them comedically stare wantonly into the distance as they reminisce their misfortunes. From here all manner of mishaps befalls Laura as her story is revealed and the two fall in love.
Outside of the romantic plotline, there is a fair amount of comedy sparring between the Butler(Kriess) and Basauri who plays all the other roles including, the family solicitor and visiting bishop.
Kriess’ butler is a work of grotesque comedy genius. From doing his own door sound effects to his running feud with Basauri’s characters, he never fails to raise a laugh and at some point gasps of shocked surprise too.
As the play goes on there are a number of baffling asides, including an odd haunting dream and an appearance by Mother Teresa; most of which are gigglesome. The naked scene before the interval is particularly confusing but immensely funny in places with some amazing physical theatre skill on display that is mesmerizing; the audience cannot take their eyes off it, even though many desperately want to.
Directed by Cal McCrystal, the comedy genius behind National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors, you’d expect the piece to be full of excellent clowning and it certainly is. Massey exemplifies this; creating a stiff, dead weight as her character swoons in wonderfully comedic episodes that are repeated throughout the play to maximise the comedic effect and increase the whoops of appreciation in the room.
Park has the most underrated part to play but is often in the funniest scenes; the best of which is when he is asked to kiss the Bishop’s ring, it reduces the room to tears of laughter and almost cracks Park up in the process.
The scenery, created by Bradridge, often has a life of its own and brings a good deal of mischief to the piece. Remote control partridges, the tails of wagging hounds and a bodiless horse all have a part in upping the mirth and adding to the humour.
Spymonkey bring us a production which is short on plot but high on character and clowning. It’s a sure-fire crowd pleaser and lots of fun.
Runs until 26 May 2019 | Image: Simon Dack