Writers: Carl Grose and Spymonkey
Director: Joyce Henderson
When your theatre company suddenly finds itself just a double act, what do you do?
Spymonkey used to comprise a quartet of actors, but after the sad loss of one and the long-term loan of another to Las Vegas they’re feeling lost. So what DO you do? Maybe you decide to tackle the oldest recorded double-act comedy in history, The Frogs by Aristophanes.
Not that there’s a whole lot of Aristophanes here to see. No, this is very much a piece of modern comedy, written by long-time Kneehigh writer Carl Grose and the members of Spymonkey, and it’s very, very cleverly put together – a comedy about being asked to perform a comedy, and then going about performing it. If that sounds contrived, it’s because it is. Cast aside any expectations of being immersed in the drama and prepare for some incredibly funny entertainment with a piece that doesn’t just break the fourth wall but smashes it into tiny pieces and tramples all over it.
It’s a production that constantly jumps between reality and performance as the cast talk to the audience, discuss what’s happened and where the company is, talk to each other, and attempt to perform some Greek comedy. It’s got Spymonkey written through it – absurdity, surrealism, clowning, song and dance numbers and an incredibly imaginative approach to design and performance.
The plot, if there is such a thing, is that having found themselves down to two actors and wondering whether to call it a day, Spymonkey get a phone call offering them a million dollars to put on The Frogs. Feeling that the story of Dionysus and Xanthias heading off on an ill-advised search to reclaim a lost friend reflects what they were feeling, they agree. This leads them on a journey of self-discovery where the lines between performance and reality seem increasingly blurred, as they get some tips from Heracles and head off into the underworld.
Spymonkey fans will remember Aitur Basauri and Toby Park, both longstanding members of the company, and the pair are in classic form as Xanthias and Dionysus with their usual mix of visual, verbal and physical theatre. They are natural comedians and bounce off each other and the audience – and judging from the reactions it’s not always scripted or exactly as rehearsed. Some of Basauri’s looks and gestures to the audience are a positive joy to behold. They are joined here by Jacoba Williams who plays every other role in the production, and who blends into the company seamlessly. Williams throws herself into things with happy abandon, looking not in the least out of place alongside the seasoned performers she’s working with. Comedy can be extremely hard work but they all seem to be having great fun on stage and their enthusiasm is infectious. Also joining the production is a small Community Ensemble, playing – what else – a chorus of tap-dancing frogs.
Designer Lucy Bradridge has given them a set that basically consists of whatever they need to perform the comedy and costumes that range from the mundane to the totally bizarre, with a distinct emphasis on the latter, all adding to the laughter.
Full of slapstick humour and completely off-the-wall humour, part comedy, part panto, part stand-up, it’s totally crazy but incredibly funny. This is the latest Made in Northampton production and reinforces the Royal & Derngate’s place as one of the top producing theatres in the country.
So hop over to the Royal & Derngate and enjoy some absolutely ribbiting comedy from Spymonkey.
Runs until 3 February 2024 then transferring to the Kiln Theatre, London.