sat 23/09/2017

Brighton Festival: The Complete Deaths, Theatre Royal | reviews, news & interviews

Brighton Festival: The Complete Deaths, Theatre Royal

Brighton Festival: The Complete Deaths, Theatre Royal

Superb comic catalogue of Shakespearean murder and mayhem

A little water may not entirely clear them of these deeds

The Complete Deaths refers to the complete onstage deaths in Shakespeare’s work, all 75 of them, including the “black ill favour’d fly” in Titus Andronicus. The latter becomes a persistent theme throughout, appearing even as the audience take their seats, a joke shop plastic approximation attached to wire, being poked up the nose of a prostrate cast member. The whole is the work of two respected Brighton-based theatrical entities, the four-person physical comedy troupe Spymonkey and writer/director Tim Crouch. And it’s a fantastic, hilarious, consistently imaginative hoot from start to finish.

The idea behind the show is a great one but needs a concept to tie it together. This is established early; that one of the Spymonkeys, Toby Park (who has something of Hollywood actor Paul Rudd about him) aspires to serious, challenging, avant-garde theatre, while the other three just want to clown, or, in the case of Petra Massey, perform the death of Ophelia from Hamlet, something that’s not allowed as one of the show’s rules, set out at the beginning, is that only onstage deaths will be dealt with.

Richard III’s passing is turned into a lunatic rave tune and dance-offWith this premise in place, the quartet enthusiastically rip into their material, each death announced by a buzzer and the gradually decreasing toll clocked off on a desk-mounted LED display, stage right, manned by a deadpan secretarial figure. Above the action another LED unit tells the audience who’s in the frame to be offed next. They have such a blast with it. Richard III’s passing – “my kingdom for a horse” – is turned into a lunatic rave tune and dance-off, and the massed deaths in Titus Andronicus become Benny Hill-meets-Punch & Judy slapstick, with a giant sausage-making meat grinder centre-stage, approximating the fate of Goth rapist-murderers Chiron and Demetrius, baked in a pie and fed to their mum. There are belly laughs galore, all the way, such as an obvious one concerning Polonius in Hamlet being “stabbed through the arras”.

Spymonkey make much use of technology too, with a big screen behind the action on which the Bard’s head occasionally pops up to advise the clownish Aitor Basauri how he may be taken seriously as a Shakespearean actor (advice he takes literally with ridiculous results). And there are many sequences involving GoPro cameras, notably a surprisingly sinister and effective one wherein crude paper puppets perform the mob murder of Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar. Having finished the first half in an epic bloodbath, the second sees the heavy hitters Macbeth, Hamlet, etc, come to the fore, with the former, unbelievably, played out as if it were imagined by Michael Flatley. After much mayhem, including Stephan Kreiss simultaneously performing the play-within-a-play death of Gonzago from Hamlet and that of the eponymous King John, the action reaches a climax wherein Spymonkey’s own narrative – Toby Park vs the others – reaches its own Julius Caesar-esque pay-off. Around this and after it, as the evening ends, the pendulum of mood swings beautifully between outrageously colourful comedy and underlying drama.

Commissioned by the Brighton Festival, The Complete Deaths is truly brilliant entertainment, with an underlying depth for those who want it. Whether you’re an erudite buff of the Bard or simply want a gaggle of raucous giggles, it tours the UK in the autumn and my advice would be to make sure you catch it.

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