Monday, December 5, 2016

REVIEW: Spymonkey's The Complete Deaths

I had the chance to see a great production recently at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.  It's only there through December 11, so if you want to see it, you need to hustle!

Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey
The show is by Spymonkey, a British troupe of clowns/physical comedians.  If you've been to Las Vegas, you may have seen their work, as they created all of the comedy numbers in the Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity.  They are known for their wacky physical theatre, their crazy costumes, and their off-kilter situations and characters.

 The show is directed by Tim Crouch, who performed earlier in the year the remarkable show I, Malvolio. I reviewed that show a couple of years ago when I saw it in NY for my other blog Clownlink.  In that review  I suggested that Crouch was great, but he could take the show from an 8 to a 10 by taking a clown workshop.  Apparently, he took my advice, as he is now working with Spymonkey.  I would very much like to know if it affected his own show.

This show has as its concept the idea that the company Spymonkey (composed of four members Toby, Aitor, Petra, and Stephan) will move away from comedy to create a Great Piece of Theatre by taking all  75 of Shakespeare's onstage deaths and putting them into one show.

Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey
It's a fantastic concept, even though one of the other performers wanted to do a bubble show instead. Toby, the rather bossy auteur, sets the tone, telling people that if they were there to see some slapstick buffoonery, they were going to be disappointed.  (Shortly after that he thanks a latecomer for bringing some new energy into the room)

As part of the set, there's a giant count-down timer, counting down each death, and every time somebody dies a buzzer goes off.  They actually have a judge/clock keeper on stage that does the honors, and as far as I know she never watches the show.  (This is part of Tim Crouch's influence-- in some of his other plays, there are random people cast in the show each night.)  There's also a number of set pieces, including a fantastic sausage making/machine that would look right at home at a production of Ubu Roi.

The death's continue apace, and luckily for us there is a fair amount of buffoonery in accomplishing them.  I don't want to spoil the show, but by the end of the first act over 50 people are dead, and there's a hilarious and quite bloody version of the classic clown gag The WasherWoman.

There's also some really powerful and moving moments, such as the death of Cinna the poet, who is murdered by a blood-thirsty mob for having the same name as one of the conspirators against Caesar.
The fly, as drawn by Chris Riddell for a very funny card game
that they sell as merchandise at the show.

Another great stage device was using a video camera to film a puppet show and they show the burning of the puppet.

In case you were wondering, those deaths include (according to the program) 23 stabbings, 12 sword fights, 5 poisonings, 2 throats cut, 1 smothering, 3 by natural causes, 4 by wounds, 2 explosions, 2 heartbreaks, 3 mob killings, 2 beatings, and 3 others through miscellaneous causes.

And one of them (and as it turns out a central one) is the death of a black, ill-humoured fly.  I was particularly amused by the Fly-Cam that appears throughout the show.

All in all the show is very funny, and I don't think you need to be so familiar with Shakespeare to enjoy it. There are moments of great absurdity, and there are moments of great importance, and sometimes they are at the same time!  I guarantee it is nothing that you have seen before.  I think it would make a great date night show.
Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey

On a completely side note, the views from the theatre of the city and of the water and of Navy Pier are astonishing.  Don't miss going to the restroom, which has a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline.

Tickets are available online at  or by calling the theatre box office at 312.595.5600 Tickets start at $42.

If you miss the show, Spymonkey's shows are available to stream at Vimeo On Demand, along with their other productions, including Stiff, Cooped, Moby Dick, and Oedipussy.

Audience Notice: Recommended for audience members ages 16 and up. Death is messy. This show features adult content, including brief nudity, profanity and (of course!) depictions of violence, from decapitation to death by lack of sleep.

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