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The Complete Deaths – Hull Truck Theatre

Adaptor: Tim Crouch

Director: Tim Crouch

Designer: Lucy Bradridge

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Initially staged in Northampton and Brighton, Spymonkey’s The Complete Deaths now starts a two-month international tour at Hull Truck, a tour that takes in Italy as well as the UK before finishing up in Chicago. The international element is highly appropriate: Spymonkey consists of four accomplished clowns including a German and a Spaniard, both making no attempt to disguise their accents. This, without adoubt, is as visual an approach to Shakespeare as you’ll get.

Tim Crouch takes as his subject matter the 75 on-stage deaths in Shakespeare’s plays, applying the on-stage criterion strictly (Ophelia and Macbeth excluded), but including the “black ill-favoured fly” whose death in Titus Andronicus provokes such moral discussion.

There is no “typical” way of presenting a death. The duel scene in Hamlet, despite hefty cuts, bizarre costuming and trans-gender casting, is recognisably the duel scene in Hamlet whereas the first half ends in a medley of maybe 10 deaths with two of the cast rolling around in their underwear and pools of “blood”. The death of Cinna in Julius Caesar, relatively unimportant but oddly poignant, gets a fairly full treatment, enacted by puppets filmed by mini-cam.

A few scenes are played out poetically, with amoody song, sometimes while other cast members are racing around bopping each other and building up the head count.

There are several unifying features in all this mayhem, though play plots are decidedly not one of them. Structurally a buzzer and a count-down clock mark each death and sur-titles cue the play and character, sometimes bewilderingly briefly. The afore-mentioned fly is a constant factor, manipulated by the actors, filmed and screened, once taking human form in an elaborate costume, and seeming to have a symbolic function – or, more likely, to be a parody of symbolic functions.

Toby Park’s pompously intellectual pretensions also give a sort of shape to the proceedings. He begins by lecturing us on the theme of change and death. The old comic Spymonkey is no more, the audience must abandon its bourgeois pretensions, the counter is on 76 for the first death, the death of all old-fashioned notions. The clownish entrances of Aitor Basauri and Stephan Kreiss undermine this, as they do all evening.

Basauri is central to another theme: what does Shakespeare think about this? In a witty animated projection Shakespeare instructs Aitor (who had begun the evening in a convincing Shakespeare get-up) in such matters as what makes a great Shakespearean actor. Here, as elsewhere, the satire could be sharper. Another motif, one that comes to a comically appropriate conclusion, is Petra Massey’s campaign to get Ophelia on the order paper.

Lucy Bradridge’s design is wonderfully imaginative, with costumes as crazily confused (from near-naked to Cleopatra in full imperial splendour) as the production itself. Sam Bailey’s video designs and Toby Farr’s music intensify the sense that it’s all happening! And mostly what is happening is great fun, occasionally even thought-provoking, but sometimes a bit of judicious cutting would help. For instance, Polonius getting stabbed “through the arras” belongs to teenage giggle-time. As jokes go, it should certainly have gone.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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