The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Spring 2012
There is a genre of Edinburgh Fringe show that I am a total sucker for every time – three or four actors playing all the roles in some absurdly large project, with their problems with quick changes, recalcitrant props and just trying to remember where they are in the story adding to the fun of quickfire gags, shameless puns and any other anything-for-a-laugh shtick they can come up with.
Spymonkey does this on a larger scale, here with a full-length deconstruction of Oedipus, and it is frequently very funny indeed.
For no particular reason except that it's silly (and that phrase could precede every item in this description), there's a James Bond-style title song. The Sphinx sequence somehow manages to include evocations of Wilson Keppel and Betty, Riverdance and rap; Tieresias is a glam rocker, the actress playing the Sphinx gets confused and puts a cat's head on a woman's body, Laius's chariot is a unicycle, there's a singalong about leprosy, and one actor plays the two shepherds by turning his wig into a beard and back again.
Everyone has trouble with costumes, especially when they're too big for the too-small doorways, and the actors each take a turn stepping out of character to bitch about the others and assure us they're quitting and finding a real job as soon as this run is over.
Anyway, you get the idea – anything for a laugh – and if you go along with that spirit and don't care what they're doing to Sophocles, you can have a lot of fun, at least for a while.
They open with a bit of mock indignation at a critic of one of their earlier shows who said this sort of thing is fine in an undergraduate sketch show, but can't be sustained for a full evening. And you know something? The critic was right.
This genre demands, if not a laugh a second, then at least a new gag the second an old laugh has ended. There are patches in Oedipussy where Spymonkey manage that, but there are also stretches where they don't, and you can feel the energy level drop and your attention wander. That's particularly true in the second half, where invention does flag significantly.
Co-writer (with the company) Carl Grose and director/adaptor Emma Rice are both from Kneehigh Theatre, another immensely inventive and risk-taking company. But the two company styles don't quite fit together. Kneehigh's brilliance lies in creating performances and stage imagery that excitingly evoke the themes and emotions of a text, but Spymonkey is built on to-hell-with-the-text-just-throw-in-another-gag.
(I'm not making a value judgement there – as I said, I love this genre almost as much as I love Kneehigh's work. But a director more attuned to irreverent farce might have patched over some of the slow spots.)
You are likely to come away with the sense that there is a brilliant one-hour farce trapped inside this two-hour show. To fully enjoy Oedipussy, you'll have to focus on the good stuff, and just tune out the bits in between.
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Review - Oedipussy - Lyric Hammersmith 2012