Spymonkey have conducted a frankly ridiculous and boldly profane treatment of all 75 onstage deaths in the works of William Shakespeare – and then some. Spymonkey (a clown troupe of four actors) and Tim Crouch (directorial mastermind) are unabashedly celebrating that 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A fact many of the festivities have seemed to have forgotten.
The works of Shakespeare simultaneously delight in and interrogate mortal plight, from the momento mori that is poor Yorrick’s skull to the infamous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” in The Winter’s Tale. Our most celebrated playwright was unafraid to dance in the face of demise. He even coined that euphemistic turn of phrase, ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’.
In The Complete Deaths, we have an audience member implicated in a Roman suicide and an onstage, human-sized meat grinder for the slaughters of Titus Andronicus. During the most drawn out death of all, we’re asked to sit and contemplate for a time the failure of political change in the Middle East. There’s a cabaret style dance, with Cleopatra in a garish gold dress with a full on cape and her snake cronies in spandex cobra outfits. A sword fight with poles becomes a musical extravaganza when the clowns realise the pole-swords ring out individual notes. Ophelia even gets in on the act, drowning in a zorb ball when three of the four actors mutiny and insist her offstage death be represented.
Shakespeare himself makes an appearance in the form of a trippy screen projection. From him the show pokes fun at the over the top hamming true of traditional Shakespearean acting, Kenneth Branagh style. Aitor Basauri (a particularly funny Spanish clown) beautifully integrates this into his second half performance, full of out-of-kilter spitting and finger pointing ridiculousness both in equal measure.
There are times when the fun feels out of joint because, with so many deaths to deal with, it’s a bit too episodic. Though one lovely through-line is the Titus Andronicus fly who makes various cameo appearances in microscopic detail through live projected film. You need to be in the right mood for all the buzzy, irreverent humour but the audience at Shoreditch Town Hall were in stitches and I’m pretty certain this is the funniest Shakespearean show you’ll see anytime soon.
The Complete Deaths is at Shoreditch Town Hall until October 1 and continues on its tour throughout the year.