GREEK, GOOFY, GORGEOUS
I had remembered the unicycle and Queen Merope’s mad wig, Petra Massey’s disco-sphinx and the innocently manic Spaniard Aitor Basauri leading us in an operatic chorus while disguised as three ragged singing lepers. I vaguely remembered the morris-dancing, the struggles of the cast to get between the Grecian pillars in too-wide hats, and the arresting, surprisingly poignant moments of Jocasta’s death and Oedipus’ blinding, blood-red ribbons falling from high overhead.
Other things had faded, though, since I saw this Spymonkey show under Emma Rice’s direction begin its intermittent tour in Northampton last year. I had forgotten how fine the music is: Toby Park’s saxophone solos, Hollywood-epic blasts and anthemic, ludicrously heartfelt numbers in Bond, Bowie, Bassey and X-factor style. I had blanked out the disembowelling of Tiresias in pasa-doble rhythm, the way the furious German Stefan Kreiss kicks holes in the scenery, and that Massey ends up, for important dramatic reasons, doing the curtain-call with dummy arms.
My companion, never having seen this quartet before, simply spent two hours in helpless, shocked, liberated laughter, leaving the critical brooding to me. I love Spymonkey for the brilliance and precision of their clowning and the ripple of pure intelligence beneath the anarchic surface. Not everyone gets it, and this retelling of the Oedipus story (with surprising accuracy beneath the spoofing) opens with the four of them reading the Joyce McMillan review of their last show: “a band of middle aged actors making a two-hour show out of a one line joke”. The bespectacled Park gravely says it is “the greatest gift a critic can bestow, a kick up the arse” and pledges that they will become grownup classical interpreters. “We will not romp”. Whereon down come his trousers, and we’re into loincloths, laurel wreaths, and a James Bond operning number – “Whadda man! Whadda myth! Whadda King!”.
McMillan sighed that their performance was like a student jape. But no student japes are this perfect, and in any art extreme high quality can overcome distaste for a genre. You can think you hate jazz but appreciate Charlie Parker, be impatient of opera but moved by Gheorgiu. The comparison is not absurd: these four have studied and practised physical comedy for years, and here collaborate with Emma Rice and Carl Grose. Even the moments when each steps out of character to grumble are finely tuned. Basauri says he wants to do standup, Park wails “I could have done something with my life! My sister’s a consultant psychiatrist! My grandfather designed the Morrison Shelter!” and the nimbly lunatic Petra Massey persistently interrupts the story to overshare about her “obliterated womb”. Kreiss, the oldest at 51, claims to be on painkillers and when Massey offers massage after a dramatic lift shouts “Just lose some weight!”.
No. None of them must leave. Ever. Their appearances are quite rare, quite wonderful, and not to be missed.
08444 821 556 to 19th October