Mayfest Shorts: Complete Deaths- Bristol Old Vic

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Shakespare wrote seventy five onstage deaths, Spymonkey in an idea that makes you wonder why no one has thought about it before have created a work where these are ticked off, one by one, a counter downstage right grisly counting them down, an LSD screen at the back giving you context about the character and play meeting their demise. Combining Spymonkey’s unrivalled clowning, with directors Tim Crouch’s careful theatrical probing, it is interesting and fitfully entertaining yet over two and a half hours including interval, there is a feeling of bagginess, of a work struggling to justify its length in relation to its content.  It’s one edit away from being a truly fine piece of work and don’t be surprised if that is indeed what happens over the next couple of years.

Some of the deaths are terrifically inventive, the meat grinding machine where corpse after corpse is rolled down for Titus Andronicus resembles Sweeney Todd on speed, while the puppet show death of Cinna The Poet from Julius Caesar is a menacing China Town esque lynching. Others revel in the fun, Cleopatra’s expiration by asp is turned into burlesque show brass, Brutas ropes in an audience member to hold the sword that he runs onto. The pile up of bodies from the climax of Hamlet reminds us that Shakespeare could out Tarrintino in his own bloody codas.

Of course not all the deaths are as inventive as others, nor could you expect them to be when there are 75 of the things and half of those seem to be extras from the histories. The hit rate is relatively good for laughs per death. What doesn’t work so well is the backstage drama, built up sometimes over half the show and then sometimes sacrificed for a one off gag. So Aitor wants to be a serious classical actor, not a fat comic Spaniard, Stephan loves Petra but she is more concerned with getting Ophelia a death (she can’t-the drowning happens offstage.) Meanwhile Toby wants the company to ditch their comic styling’s and focus on the politics. For those who are familiar with the companies work it’s the next step in our continued relationship with getting to know the performers, the equivalent of case of the week tv developing our relationship to Gregory House or Alicia Flockhart. In a one off piece it works less well.

Still what starts off feeling like a clever conceit for a sketch show gradually gets richer the longer you think about it. Shakespeare and Spymonkey make an interesting fit, now what could they do with the banging doors of Ibsen?

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