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Cooped – Leicester Square Theatre, London

Writer: Cal McCrystal and Spymonkey

Director: Cal McCrystal

Reviewer: Edie R


Spymonkey_mediumIn his 1961 study of personality, American psychologist Gordon Allport found that 94% of participants surveyed thought that their sense of humour was average or above average – a statistical impossibility. Maybe that’s because we’re a race of egomaniacs, with an inflated conception of our own wit.

Or maybe it’s because what humans find funny diverges so wildly that we find it very hard to put a competitive measure on our sense of humour. “Cooped”, Spymonkey’s popular and superlatively-reviewed gothic piss-take, is a case in point.

The audience loved it. You might love it. This reviewer didn’t like it at all. At the risk (well, the certainty!) of sounding stuffy, “Cooped” feels puerile.

The storyline is mildly amusing. Short-skirted heroine Laura du Lay (Petra Massey) arrives at a haunted mansion, whose owner Forbes Murdston (Toby Park) begins to behave strangely towards her, veering from affection to attempted murder. He’s abetted by his odious butler Klaus (Stephan Kreiss), and challenged by engaging Spanish lawyer/detective/bishop Roger Parchment (Aitor Basauri), who’s also in love with the wilting, surreally-dreaming Laura. Much clowning ensues.

The plot, then, promises an enjoyable evening, not too challenging for either actors or audience. And there is indeed plenty of enthusiastic hamming. But most of the comedy seems flat and babyish. Laura du Lay is given an out-of-character “gastric disorder” and farts a lot: it’s mildly funny the first time, but the second, third, fourth, fifth? Yet each fart raises a fresh gale of laughter from the audience. There’s plenty more toilet humour, from the repellent Klaus dry humping any cast member he can get his bum on, to a fantasising Laura ejaculating ping pong balls. It’s primary school stuff: surely worth a smile for grown-ups, but not uproarious laughter.

Being Not Amused isn’t painful, just dreary; but there are periods of discomfort as well, when the play offends recklessly, without much justification in the way of comedy. In one dream sequence, Basauri, Park and Kreiss all dress up as Orthodox Jews, complete with forelocks, thick glasses, giant black hats and hunched Fagin-like postures, then alternate fisticuffs with exaggeratedly guttural arguments in Yiddish (or mock-Yiddish: I’m not qualified to tell!) Perhaps there’s no harm in it, but there doesn’t seem to be much distinction between what’s happening on the stage, and the hostile depictions of the Jews in centuries past. The line where slapstick ends and anti-Semitism begins is too fine to make for heartfelt enjoyment. Especially as the action itself isn’t very funny: robed men slapping each other and coughing up “ch”s from the back of the throat are all very well, but grow monotonous when dragged out for minutes on end.

There are some lovely moments, mostly animal-related. Toby Park goes out huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ and returns with a giant rubber carp and a pack of beagle tails which wag wildly through an upstage window. Stephan Kreiss sends a brace of covetable clockwork pheasants skittering round the stage, and dons a green stegosaurus costume for Laura’s hypnotic vision. And there’s a wonderfully crazy sequence where Park in a nude body suit cavorts around the stage singing a madrigal, and is joined in his ballet leaps by Basauri and Kreiss, actually nude, under badly adjusted fig-leaves. It’s funny and mad, if visually scarring!

But overall, the production left this reviewer with a sense of flatness. The loud amusement of other audience members just increases the feeling of being left out of some hilarious party – a party whose hilarity I just don’t “get”. That’s the sense of humour for you. Gordon Allport, bid me welcome to your below average 6%!

Runs until 23rd March

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