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A CurtainUp London Review
Monkey! For Ages 9 to 90
by Lizzie Loveridge
The unusual stars of this production are Alasdair Monteith's Wu Shu warriors whose acrobatic, martial artistry is breathtaking. Wu Shu literally means military arts and combines several forms of martial arts including Kung Fu and T'ai Chi and encompasses an Eastern philosophy so that the warrior has mental strength as well as physical prowess. Dick Bird's set at the Young Vic's "in the round" space is a diagonal cross walkway, surrounding a central square bringing the audience right into the action. Before the show even starts there is the anticipation of an exciting and imaginative stage with three dimensional clouds painted with Chinese characters, huge paper fish hanging menacingly and the walls and floor and red carpet all featuring hieroglyphics and Chinese writing.
The story is of Monkey (the charismatic Elliot Levey), a mischievous, magical Monkey King who defies the gods and is imprisoned under a stone mountain by Buddha ( a stately Aicha Kossoko). The condition of his release is that he should help the monk, Tripitaka (the luminous Inika Leigh Wright) on a journey to find the sacred scriptures. At every turn demons waylay the travellers who find Pigsy (a porcine Jan Knightley) and Sandi (a fishy Jason Thorpe) to continue with them on the journey which will be the path to redemption and enlightenment. An interesting conflict is that between Tripitaka's essential pacifism and Monkey's fighting aggression when under attack from the enemy.
Elliott Levey's Monkey is a resourceful fighter but has a monkey's vulgarity, inclined to a less sophisticated approach than that of the holy Tripitaka. Inika Leigh Wright as the monk has a delicacy but can be steely in her handling of her fellow travellers and of course her commitment to her holy purpose.
The lighting is highly stated and dramatic and the fight choreography is outstanding. The encounter with the Ninjas is the most exciting of the many adventures.
Mick Gordon's ambitious production moves at a thundering pace, continually enlivened by the appearance of fantastic monsters or a ride in the cloud chariots as well as the stick twirling, kick boxing acrobatics or the use of trapeze wires to raise the characters. The music is recorded and has an Eastern flavour but is much more interesting to the Western ear than the gong and xylophone variety.
There are many other imaginative staging touches. The costumes have been carefully designed to reflect character. Yama, Queen of Death (Aicha Kossoko) wears a fantastic black costume topped by a skull head dress and is motor cycled booted, but as Buddha, her flowing simple gown and hat are plain yellow. Pigsy's outfit is as sparsely hairy and wrinkled as a grey Vietnamese pot bellied pig with boar's teeth on his lower lip.
Colin Teevan's script is fun and accessible with Monkey's "I''s time to play!" refrain, but this is not a play where you are going to learn much about Buddhism or Eastern philosophy. The gruesome throwing up of bloodied human bones in the cannibal scene prompts the suggestion to bring only childre at least nine years old and over. However, the programme is kid-friendly with lots of stickers plus fortune cookies with sayings from the show's characters. Sometimes going to a children's show means that I try to enjoy it for the sake of the children. In the case of Monkey!, I had just as good a time as they did.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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