The one that turns a Greek Tragedy into James Bond? It’s brash, vulgar, silly, energetic, and perhaps a tad bit long, Spymonkey theatre company leap about the stage at The Lyric Hammersmith in tiny loin clothes to present their twisted interpretation of the Greek Tragedy Oedipus. The opening after a faux introduction to the company as people, set the scene with an amusing rendition of an opening spoon of James Bond, thus presenting Oedipussy.
I’ll admit as the cast entered the stage I had no idea what to expect from Spymonkey and I was actually inclined to purchase tickets after learning of Kneehigh’s Artistic Director Emma Rice and writing partner Carl Grose being involved with this project.
Now to describe the performance… erratic is the immediate word that springs to mind. The production presents a sort of competitive attitude within the performers to gain the most stage time and perform as brash and loud as the previous. As I am sure this is intentional the joke soon wears thin, particularly by the end of the production. There are many a moment where the audience is in fits of laughter, for example Aitor Basauri’s double act as both shepherds, particular in the trial scene is very amusing. Other jokes including getting the theatre to sing-a-long with a rendition of “Leprosy’s not funny” left me thinking… no, it’s not.
The random nation of the production, with asides to the audience, theatrical in jokes, and general silliness, could be described to that of an episode of Family Guy, but whereas the television programme is 23 minutes of quick fire wit, the show felt like the jokes dragged the performance over what was necessary. The first act in particular could have been shortened and I would have been more than happy for the whole production to have been an hour and fifteen, straight through.
Saying that, the second half with a fantastic death sequence to the tragic end of the story, really is worth the wait and build up. Petra Massey creates a fantastically amusing, but equally shocking hanging image. There are many wonderful images and theatrical techniques, as a virgin to Spymonkey’s style, I’m not sure whether these were a standard of the company or if they were heavy influences by Rice. Emma Rice has developed a house style for Kneehigh and elements of this appear within the show. The use of falling leaves, the blood splats across the white floor, and red ribbons alongside some staple choreography moves all bring a smile to the eye for their clever use of storytelling skills.
For all the vulgar, in your face crudeness of this production the audience is made up of a dedicated banned of young followers who clearly enjoy exactly what they present. The start of the show sees the company introduce themselves and cite from a damming review from The Scotsman, where the “middle aged” performers indulge in being nothing more than silly. The performance is then a salute to what is read as a critical review, but actually states exactly what the company are of which they are very proud.
This production which seeks elements of Morecambe and Wise mashed with Shooting Stars, is a perfect introduction to a younger theatre audience and allowing a Greek Tragedy to keep their attention for the full performance.