Spymonkey’s The Complete Deaths is Gut-bustingly Funny

Putting the bawdy back into the bard, Spymonkey’s gruesome countdown tour of death scenes that litter Shakespeare’s plays, is gut-bustingly funny. By the end of the first act approximately forty deaths in – one of which included the death of theatre-going itself, I have laughed so much that I have given myself a pained throat. In the second act I was in tears. 

Picture: Jon Hunter for RULER / thisisruler.net

Picture: John Hunter for RULER / thisisruler.net

As we approach the umpty umpth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death there will be much reviewing of his work, much updating, defining and redefining, dissecting and disgorging. Thankfully The Complete Deaths directed and adapted by Tim Crouch, has none of that scholastic superiority.  Through the parodying and subversion of theatrical norms and values, breaking character and form, bastardising the hallowed text, we the audience, get to see Shakespeare as it may have been seen four hundred years ago: carbuncles and all.

Nothing is sacred the romanticism and tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’s altar scene is brilliantly reduced to farcical proportions… as for Antony and Cleopatra, I do not recall the asp doing anything quite like that.

The dynamism between the four players is wonderful to observe, plots, subplots and group politics play out as plays within plays backstage, in full view of the audience. Those standards of storytelling, dramatic and situational irony are used to good effect and the comic timing and clowning are superbly inventive. Hey Nonny Nonny.  Metaphor and symbolism are ladled on with a spoon like the gravy on a pie, from the kitchen in Titus Adronicus.

Hamlet is in there, as are Lear, John and the Henrys in all their many parts, Cressida and Troilus, Julius Ceasar’s suicides and of course the Scottish Play. Having learned by heart the line that Macbeth cries out, just before embarking on his bloody spree, I was much anticipating the moment when King Duncan would hear not the knell, that summoned him, to heaven, or hell. It never came. I may have missed it: entirely possible. There were times when the bodies were falling like flies. Ahh that black ill-favoured fly. Banquo gets it as do the Thane of Fife and his wife. In all I think they do 75 on-stage deaths. Ah hah on-stage deaths. Duncan dies between the pages as do the ‘sleepy grooms’ all smeared with his blood, that’s why we didn’t see him.

Even with the handy counter at the side of the stage and the LED display proclaiming who was getting it next, it was quite easy to lose track. With inspired use of technology and some deft camera work, the multimedia elements, only serve to enhance the action on stage and not detract from it: reference to modern visual culture, apps and the mash-up, all lend The Complete Deaths a contemporary twist.

It isn’t a learning exercise, although pupils studying Shakespeare will absolutely love it. You don’t need to have any knowledge of the plays, but a modicum of familiarity will allow you to enjoy The Complete Deaths on a variety of levels. Everyone of a certain generation has done Shakespeare in one form or another but I can guarantee you The Works of Shakespeare have never looked or sounded quite like this.

Marvelous slapstick, Pythonesque performance art mayhem and bloody good fun.

Runs from 6 – 10 Sept at Hull Truck Theatre Main House Buy Tickets


Performed by Spymonkey: Aitor Basauri, Stephan Kreiss, Petra Massey & Toby Park


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Filed under Art blogs, Theatre

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