Review – Spymonkey’s Cooped, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 15th January 2013

CoopedWith happy memories of Spymonkey’s Oedipussy from last year, we naturally booked for this year’s production, Cooped, which is a remounting of the show that originally made the company’s name back in 2001. It’s described as “a deliciously demented take on the pulp gothic romance”, which is about as sensible a description as you can have for this totally wacky, anarchic, irreverent, very silly, very funny show.

Petra MasseyI guess if your sense of humour is geared more towards Rattigan or Coward, this probably isn’t for you. If you like something subversive and full of the unexpected, this more than fills the bill. It’s a sheer delight how they take a genre and then mock it mercilessly – and it doesn’t matter how familiar you are with their subject matter, because it seems to me all their shows contain a bit of everything. Cooped, for example, includes ghosts, a Eurovision-style pop song, a mischievous bishop and random wandering pheasants. With the old country house set and the shenanigans going on outside the leaded window, it actually put Mrs Chrisparkle in mind of the recent touring production of The Mousetrap, which is probably not a compliment to Miss Christie.

Stephan KreissTheir whole raison d’être is to make you laugh. There appears to be no end they won’t go to to achieve that aim. They will explore every tangent and every whim until it reaches the point of reductio ad absurdum, and it really works. They even subvert the set – with the window tricks, the steps off that clearly don’t go anywhere, the lift with its artificial flashing light. Their shows are not erudite comedies of which you will find yourself appreciating the finer points for weeks to come – they are slam dunk, in your face, happening now, laugh your socks off shows that live life to the full until curtain down.

Aitor BasauriOne can only wonder at the recruitment process at Spymonkey HQ. “So you want to join our band of merry men? The two chief elements in our Person Specification are 1) amazing clowning ability and 2) a complete lack of inhibitions”. There is some beautiful physical comedy in this show. Petra Massey’s ability to remain stiffly inanimate when she has collapsed and someone is trying to help her to her feet is extraordinary and leads to some hilarious moments. There’s also a wonderful scene where Stephan Kreiss’ face is being consistently bashed against a briefcase on the floor – such skilful clowning; as is his extremely active and rather disgusting tonguing of Miss Massey. As for inhibitions – look no further than the most unexpected and funniest ever use of nudity on a stage; never were figleaves more redundant. Acrobatic, ludicrous, brazen and totally gratuitous – and why not?

Toby ParkIt’s clear to see they’re all having fun on the stage – I doubt anyone could carry off this kind of performance if it was a chore. There was a marvellously teasing moment between Aitor Basauri’s Bishop of Northumberlandshirehampton and Toby Park’s Murdston based on the traditional kissing of the bishop’s ring, which was actually not as rude as it sounds. Their enthusiasm is deeply infectious, as the audience were loving every minute of it. It goes without saying that all four performers turned in brilliant performances.

The castThere were a couple of technical glitches in the first night performance we saw – sound volumes went wrong with the opening and closing of the window and a TV screen brought on during the performance of “Mr Sandman” (don’t ask) didn’t work. Given the number of sound and lighting cues they must have in the show it’s surprising there aren’t more errors. Mr Park’s “Jewish glasses” wouldn’t stay on his nose, to much amusement.

The programme promotes a couple of workshops that the company is running later this spring. I can only imagine that after two weeks’ working with them, you would be unrecognisable from the person you were before. Think of how much more confidence you would have!

A riotously funny evening, and one which we both agreed on the way home we could easily go back and see again. It’s on in Northampton till Saturday 19th January and then plays a few dates in Brighton and London in March. Go see it!

Photos of the Spymonkey team taken from their website, copyright Sean Dennie. I thought it was wise not to choose the naked ones!