Spymonkey have been working together for eighteen years – impressive stuff. They certainly draw a crowd and Bristol Old Vic was completely sold out, with people being turned away at the door, when I arrived. I’d been really looking forward to The Complete Deaths; I love clowning and jump at the chance to watch a show with multi-media in it. In the words of Toby Park, artistic director of Spymonkey, “The Complete Deaths is the result of a massive Spymonkey and Tim Crouch jam-out. Theatre jazz. Hopefully not too much rubbish scat though.”
As we waited for the show to begin, a large counter was set on 76 at the edge of the stage. An elderly woman with her knitting was helped to a seat next to the counter and proceeded to knit and press the counter down after each and every death. Clever use of live video, particularly at the beginning, gave the audience a fly’s view of the stage. Massey and Kreiss played with the fly landing on each other. Kreiss cheekily puppeteered the fly to land on Massey’s nipples and clitoris before the show began! This warmed the audience well and trickles of laughter lapped onto the stage ready for the show to begin.
I was thrilled as the first scene erupted onto the stage with two of the performers galloping on as anarchic horses in gas masks, with punk music blaring, shortly followed by a huge visual image of Shakespeare merged with Hitler with flashing red eyes. I was braced and ready for a high energy full on production.
The quartet of clown demi-gods treated the audience to an enormous array of costumed characters, from Petra Massey as Cleopatra with huge golden wings (surrounded by Aitor Basauri, Stephan Kreiss and Toby Park as giggle inducing and unique, dancing snakes) to a human fly and an inflatable clown, with traditional Shakespearean costumes, casual clothes and rubber.
We whizzed through Shakespeare’s plays: Hamlet; Anthony and Cleopatra; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Othello, to name a few. Shakespeare appeared intermittently on the screen at the back of the stage in the style of a Monty Python clip, as a huge God-like figure talking to Basauri about becoming a better Shakespearean actor. “You have to roll your r’s, point a lot and spit” he was told. Basauri proceeded to do just that for the next scene, collecting belly laughs from the audience.
Death was delivered in the style of contemporary dance or blood wrestling in Butou style – sword fighting, shooting, suffocation, a huge human sized meat mincing machine and paper puppet burning were all delivered tonight. A highlight for me was the Macbeth scene (if you read that aloud please spit on the floor immediately) with everyone in flash coloured rubber kilts bobbing up and down hilariously. Massey with a ginger beard, chest hair and dispelling the myth about what men wear under their kilts. She had a huge cock which danced rampantly of its own accord.
I have to admit this production was a little too scatty for me, jumping from death to random death, with the audience clapping after almost every death sequence was completed. Two and a half hours could have comfortably been cut by an hour, I felt. However, there were many people leaving the theatre grinning from ear to ear. One woman told me she would be “laughing to herself for days.” Spymonkey have succeeded in breaking down the concept of Shakespeare as ‘high theatre.’ They certainly have deconstructed and smothered Shakespeare in bubbles, giggles and above all theatre jazz. In the words of Toby Park “Doo-bee-doo or not doo-bee-doo-bee-doo.”
The Complete Deaths shows at Bristol Old Vic tonight, 18th May
Mayfest shows in venues all over Bristol until 22nd May
Review by Anita MacCallum