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PULSE FESTIVAL 2016: Spymonkey – The Complete Deaths

Writer &Director: Tim Crouch
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Venue: New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich


4.5 critics choice 2In just a couple of weeks, Sir Trevor Nunn will return to his hometown, Ipswich, and the New Wolsey Theatre stage to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the one Shakespeare play missing from his directorial canon. He’s got a tough act to follow, as closing out the Pulse Festival for 2016, Spymonkey offered up, on the same stage, what could be the definitive ‘Bluffers Guide’ to the gory bits of The Bard.

Over two and a half hours we are treated to all 75 onstage deaths that feature in Shakespeare’s work. 75? Yes, if you include the ‘black ill favour’d fly’ from Titus Andronicus. The fly, under Spymonkey’s wannabe Hamlet, Toby Parks, is a central theme. Parks sees it as a symbol of the infested, bourgeoise theatre goers we have become and is intent on re-establishing the avant-garde. You get the feeling that Parks is waiting for a call from Nunn to star in his latest Shakespearian outing but is trapped in the traditional, if you can call them that, Spymonkey clownery.

Being Spymonkey, his fellow troupe members, Aitor Basauri, Stephan Kreiss and Petra Massey, have differing ideas.

Massey is determined to offer her Ophelia (despite dying off stage and so out of Parks’ scope), Basauri is communing with a Monty Pythonesque talking Shakespeare head in the hope of joining the RSC and Kreiss thinks it is about time Massey resolved the unresolved sexual tension in the company by heading to his dressing room for a quickie!

The deaths themselves, however, are not overlooked, and, as a deadpan grim reaper sits stage right merrily counting down the victims, each is dispatched with comedic efficiency. Blood soaked wrestling, a manic mincing machine meets children’s TV show and even a Martha Graham dance inspired Macbeth all neatly, and hilariously, add to the body count.

Tim Crouch’s writing, directing and love of revitalising Shakespeare are evident throughout. Covering the entire canon is an ambitious feat, and if there is the odd moment where the concept flags it soon passes.

By the time the victim countdown reaches zero we’re in danger of expiring ourselves through laughing. For Shakespeare novice or scholar alike, there is much to enjoy here and, even though watching Romeo and Juliet will never be the same again, this is a fitting and carefully crafted tribute to Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. Long live The Bard, long live Spymonkey!

Reviewed 4 June 2016| Image: Contributed


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