Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Dead clever, yes. Dead good, no

SOME of our happiest memories are from those relaxed weekend evenings in the pub when a

SOME of our happiest memories are from those relaxed weekend evenings in the pub when a chat thread gets going and develops into a full-blown comedy sketch.

Something like a take on Shakespeare, say, when maybe someone brings up Titus Andronicus and another suggests it would be a laugh to have him fed into a meat grinder, then a third jumps in with the idea that you should all wear clown costumes when you do it.

By this time everyone is falling about with laughter because it is funny. But perhaps it should stay in the bar, with your mates, and a table full of empty glasses.

Somehow, though, that idea and many others like it escaped its natural habitat and managed to get on to the stage. It fetched up at the Oxford Playhouse this week in the shape of Spymonkey’s The Complete Deaths.

Even the writer, Tim Crouch, admits it’s a weird idea to scour the Shakespearean canon for every stage death and then re-enact them with clowns, video, flies — I said weird — and occasionally music.

There are 75 stage deaths and that’s not counting the ones off stage we remember — Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and so on. An electronic counter is set at the side of the stage and a surtitle reader is above it, stating the play’s title and the name of the character about to be consigned to oblivion.

The four actor-comedian-clowns set about their task with huge energy and imagination. To what purpose I still don’t know, but there are certainly laughs along the way — maybe not as many as they would like, though.

We see Polonius from Hamlet being repeatedly stabbed in the hind quarters until it’s pointed out that this famous character was killed behind the Arras — see what they did there! Another — and I forget which character this was — is struck to death with hollow tubes, each of which is tuned to a note in the scale and which play a wonderful tune as he is beaten to death.

It’s okay as far as it goes and it would have no doubt been hilarious in a university end-of-term sketch.

But I’m not sure it works as a full-blown show — it’s probably 40 minutes too long. And while the ideas are elaborate and sometimes intricate, they don’t necessarily prove that clever is good.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

The Complete Deaths is at Shoreditch Town Hall from September 20 to October 1. For a full list of tour dates, visit

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