Like the virus, Spymonkey’s brand of comedy has proved highly infectious over the last couple of months but at the same time it has also become a regular weekly vaccine against the blues. Their very welcome freestreams have just come to an end but much of their back catalogue remains accessible on demand (the payment is negligible) and as I had manged to miss one of the shows first time round I was glad that I could catch up with just a couple of clicks. Oedipussy is the group’s attempt to get serious with some Greek drama and some of the time they actually manage it but, thankfully, mostly they don’t.
The conceit at the start is that they have been stung into producing something more worthwhile by a poor review of a previous outing from a critic on The Scotsman. I assumed this was all part of a constructed joke but not a bit of it – the review for Moby Dick actually exists and is quoted verbatim; so they embark on an examination of the ancient tragedy telling the whole of the Oedipus myth and examining many of the conventions of performing Greek drama. Of course they largely do so with tongue in cheek and there are the usual problems with the set – too many doors and ladders, the costumes – often too big to manoeuvre and the props – giant inflatable balls that escape into the audience.
For reasons that would take too long to examine, the production is suffused with references to pop culture such as 007, the cult classic film of the 60s Barbarella and there’s a clever tribute to David Bowie from Toby Park which has nothing to do with the main action. Each of the four strong team also break out of character and situation one by one to share some personal time with the audience; Stephan Kreiss reflects on being 50 but playing a 17 year old, Petra Massey tells us about her bandy legs and crumbling feet. We even get some circus thrown in with Aitor Basauri riding a unicycle.
These aspects have all the hallmarks of director Emma Rice who brings her usual eclectic sensibilities to the production; underneath the comic proceedings she provides a consistent bedrock of narrative against which the silliness plays out. Lucy Bradridge and Michael Vale’s design is ingenious particularly the former’s costumes which owe more than a little to glam rock and disco.
The script by Carl Grose provides a complete examination of the Oedipus myth such that no prior knowledge is required. There are, of course, the usual brilliantly realised set pieces dotted throughout the show though perhaps the song ‘Leprosy’s Not Funny’ took things a bit too far; the audience were encouraged to join in with a singalong but were plainly too embarrassed to do so.
I did however enjoy ‘The Riddle Of The Sphinx’ routine which managed to evoke memories of the variety show classic the Wilson, Keppel and Betty sand dance and had Massey getting into glorious difficulties with her costume and disco diva accent. There was also much fun to be had with a blind oracle not being able to find its way offstage. The ending of the performance was actually played more or less straight with the mounting horror and toll of mutilations chaotically staged and visually quite stunning.
There’s an interesting sense of defiance about this show which typifies the Spymonkey approach. Having used the criticism from the review as a springboard to propel this piece of theatre, the team then blithely ignore it and push forward with an evening of clowning and inspired business much in their usual vein. I, for one, am glad that they do. Having never seen a Spymonkey performance eight weeks ago I have now devoured every show they have committed to video and have had a great time into the bargain. I can’t wait until they are able to perform live again so I can applaud them loud and long.