I am perhaps overfond of damning with faint praise by using the adjective “affable”. But when Kneehigh’s artistic director Emma Rice enrols her frequent writing colleague Carl Grose to join her on a Spymonkey project, the result is just that.
The Spymonkeys constitute one of a number of comedy outfits in a genre that might reasonably be termed “playing silly buggers”. This international quartet (Britons Toby Park and Petra Massey, German Stephan Kreiss and Spaniard Aitor Basauri) have a plethora of ideas and an undoubted mastery of a range of comic skills in their project to make a comedy of the most classic tragedy of them all, that of Oedipus.
The tweaked title suggests James Bond, and that parody is present and correct, but so are a host of others, from the vaguely Barbarella-ish costume of Jocasta to the physical-theatre daftness of the Oracles, dressed entirely in Lycra and bouncing giant balloon eyeballs around. The company themselves are also the butt of humour, as each individual shares their insecurities with us. And there are several points of brilliance.
However, there are also misfires. Rice’s programme note calls this “a huge story told in a short space of time”, yet the comedy’s playing time is about 20 per cent longer than most versions of Sophocles’ tragedy. The final minutes are more Kneehigh than Spymonkey, distilling the vein of sadness in a classic tale (and let’s face it, they didn’t have to look far for it). Above all, and despite the undoubted performance abilities of all concerned, the comedy remains somehow baggy, lacking in the zest of mood or execution that would give it a sharper and more complex tang.
At bottom, the only thing wrong is that this is so very nearly much more than simply, yes, affable.