Review: Spymonkey’s The Complete Deaths (Rating 14)

In the bathroom at Derby Theatre I overheard a woman plaintively asking her friend, “But HOW can I explain to people how brilliant this was?  What words will express how hysterically funny it was?”  Her friend had no answer.  I’m not sure I’m going to do it justice either.  Have some awestruck word salad…

The Complete Deaths by Tim Crouch is a comic romp through all 75 of the onstage deaths in Shakespeare’s plays (no really, I am one of the founders of a Shakespeare language site and I thought there were 74 too, we all missed one).  It forms part of the celebrations for the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare.

There are NO walls here. None. Everything is broken and yet enhanced. Meta meta. There are no barriers between the 16th and 21st centuries, between subjects and critique and comedy, no barriers between audience and performers, no untouchable subjects and no difference between respect and lack of it.

They can do anything.  They WILL do anything.

Dance, puppetry, shadow theatre, contemporary dance, Japanese dance theatre, Pythonesque interludes, live filming and projection, Blackadder style acerbic bickering, serious drama, singing, brass band and slapstick akin to the Marx Brothers.  There’s more…

It’s difficult to leave Spymonkey without thinking “penis”, which is your warning that this show is for a minimum age of 14.  I took my teenagers (15 and 18) and I have honestly never seen them laugh so much at theatre.

The cast physically attack the audience (no audience members were harmed in this vicious assault on passive viewing). There are bubbles. There’s audience participation.  The audience is never unacknowledged.

I cannot recommend these intellectual clowns enough.  I laughed till my belly ached.

Buttocks, blood, boobs, cross dressing, bondage gear, CODPIECES, willies…all on a wet room set up with a secretarial grim reaper counting down the deaths with a buzzer.

The Complete Deaths analyses how we do theatre, what we expect and whether we should get it. It challenges concepts of high brow theatre and “how Shakespeare is intended” and with a liberal assortment of current cultural and political references, brings Shakespeare back down to its ribald roots.  It examines the way in which we respond to death and what death variedly means to us.  It takes the audience on the metaphorical struggle to carry a corpse without someone tripping one into a bowl of custard while being heckled about a completely different subject.  It’s poignant at exactly the same time that it is funny.  There were several moments where the reactions of the audience were split between hysterical laughter and being moved, as were those of the cast.

That cast are Toby Park, Petra Massey, Stephan Kreiss and Aitor Basauri.  They excel.

It’s smart, it’s daft, it’s chaotic, it’s absurdly well stage managed and just plain absurd.  It is absolutely riotously hilarious.  Spymonkey are only in town for two days and this was one of them, so get there tomorrow because you will regret missing this.  Book here: https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/complete-deaths

Clare Washbrook

Professional editor, journalist, writer. Lived in Belper for nearly 2 decades BA(Hons) English/Theatre, Post-grads in Journalism, Ethics and Law. First an editor in chief in 1995. Community affiliations: Poppy Installations for WWI Centenary, Belper Goes Green, formerly Amber Valley Solidarity for Refugees. No political party memberships.

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