Shakespeare and Death

Shakespeare and Death

The four piece ensemble, Spymonkey, embark on a difficult feat, attempting to stage all of the deaths in Shakespeare within a 120 minute time frame.  Although the idea of seventy-five deaths all in succession suggests a sombre two hours is about to follow, Spymonkey’s compilation of Shakespearean deaths manifests itself in a hilariously chaotic and elaborately grotesque theatrical experience. The play induces a mixture of shock, laughter, bafflement and in all honesty, an absolute migraine. However, the company manages a completely original take on some of the most dramatized material in theatrical history.

The Shakespeare world co-exists with a constant layer of meta-theatricality, as Toby, Petra, Aitor and Stephan half embody themselves as part of physical comedy collective, and half step into roles of Shakespearean characters in order to stage the deaths. The chaos of the play feels like walking into a dress rehearsal when the whole cast are experiencing a delusional sugar rush. Featuring a dead fly on a stick as symbol of death, the cast jumping into meat blender, and the reoccurring image of Shakespeare’s floating head to give advice to Aitor, the play does not fall short of theatrical spectacles.

As the play begins, Toby breaks the fourth wall and introduces the company’s artistic vision, telling the audience to forget the pleasurable experience they think may follow. Instead he argues art’s intention is to disturb, and this play will function as a disturbing wrecking ball, uprooting any gratification they might expect. Flamboyant representations of death will ensue, though interpretive dance, meat blenders, and audience participation. Meanwhile, the trials and tribulations of the comedy act is woven throughout, as they attempt to stage series of deaths.

On the corner of the stage sits an elderly lady, sewing away and minding her own business. On a table in front of her is a counter with the figure ‘75’. Each time a death is staged, the elderly lady pushes a buzzer, emitting a harsh sound to signify the company is one step closer to their aim of performing all of the deaths in Shakespeare. Meanwhile, a screen above the stage firstly states the play being acted, and secondly, the character about to be killed off.

Toby steps out of role during his death in Antony and Cleopatra, he tells audience about Antony’s lengthy death which goes on for over a hundred lines. While Petra, who takes on the role of CleoPETRA, makes a witty comment about the similarity of their names, and dies in an Egyptian style song and dance. This stepping-in stepping-out of character draws attention to the slippery nature of role-play, the performative nature of identity that is so integral to tragic plays like Hamlet, and wearing a less serious outfit in the comedies such as Twlefth Night, and As You Like it.

Spymonkey’s attempt to compress all of Shakespeare’s deaths into one successive whole is as complicated and bizarre as it sounds. The foursomes Marx-Brothers-esque movement is marked with a comic depiction of death, and will leave you laughing and feeling incredibly disorientated as you leave the theatre.

Elena Angelides