Steve Sutherland reviews Monkey at Playbox Theatre (6th October) ahead of its performance at the Santa Monica Playhouse Festival
Way back in the early 1980s, when there was still such a thing as an appointment to view, school kids and adults of a similarly juvenile nature would race home at teatime, turn on the telly and have their tiny minds blown by Monkey.
Imported from Japan and based on an ancient Chinese saga, no-one had ever seen anything quite like it. I guess you could say it was a kind of gentle prototype for Game Of Thrones, an epic fantasy in which a gaggle of colourfully eccentric characters undertook a quest for knowledge of some sort and met, were tested by and ultimately overcame many a fierce foe along the way. That,and a lot of flying and mischief and kung-fu and dragons and such. It was utterly ace, so much so that I believe some of the old episodes were resurrected alongside Bagpuss, Trumpton and other trippy comfort views in the late 1990s to help bring down and chill out saucer-eyed, pre-dawn ravers before they finally crashed into their beds.
Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz also had a pretty cool pop at staging it recently but you know what they say, you can’t get too much of a good thing, so here’s old Monkey, back again, in a joyous Playbox production cleverly updated from the ancient text by Toby Quash and directed with smashing pizazz by Emily Quash.
Only a few weeks ago some of us were reeling from a performance of a moving work in progress penned by Mr Quash called Catching Flies, a brilliantly balletic piece about dementia. From that lovely study in learning to forget to this witty, life-affirming romp towards the gaining of wisdom, this is a theatrical troupe on quite the high at present, and revelling in the trajectory.
Monkey, born of a stone egg on a mountainside and destined to trouble the very gods themselves, is played with athletic relish by Noah Lukehurst, aided, abetted and occasionally obstructed along the way by Hayden Coward’s long-suffering teacher Tripitaka, Syd Sutherland’s grubbily greedy rogue Pigsy, and Paige Cooper’s scary Sandy, eventually subdued from her fearsome cannibalistic urges. Milli Sispal is a regally zen and sanguine Buddha, Connor Parris a wickedly muscular Demon Of Havoc, Calum Blackie an hilarious pantomime spook of a dead monarch, Dani Burridge a neat laid-back hipster of an Old Dragon King, plus there are frisky angels, naughty demons and gambolling courtiers aplenty.
The entire ensemble is tremendous but the show itself is the true star, all a-glitter and jam-packed with delightfully boisterous choreography set to a buoyantly catchy soundtrack – it’s a magically immersive treat for the eyes and ears and a proper cheeky heart-warmer into the bargain.
Staged in Warwick by way of rehearsal for an imminent Playbox visit to Santa Monica, Monkey will play very soon for some lucky American audiences who, let’s face it, could do with oodles of Monkey charm and cheering up right about now.