Review: The Complete Deaths. SpyMonkey at Nottingham Playhouse. NEAT16

five star

“Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.”

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare.


Tim Crouch, director and adaptor of The Complete Deaths was approached by SpyMonkey in 2013 and was asked if he would like to do a Shakespeare with them. He says that they all talked through a myriad of possibilities but he felt uninspired to do yet another funny production of yet another Shakespeare play. An unlikely idea started to slowly form creatively with himself and the collective about a performance piece featuring the more serious nature of death in Shakespeare’s plays.

spymonkey cdeaths

Given that we now, in 2016, have the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death the very idea of a performance about all of the deaths in Shakespeare’s plays began to take a more serious root. We @EM_Theatre imagine this would certainly be a mammoth early proposition and mammoth’s are – so we believe- pretty extinct. Would this be a ‘no go’ idea? Crouch and SpyMonkey pressed on regardless. Like one doth. Early on in the planning together they made the decision to include only those deaths that appear unambiguously on-stage. Some severe editing had to occur in the bloodily raw death count written material otherwise the audiences may well be stuck to their seats longer than the 400 years since Shakespeare kicketh ye olde proverbial bucket. Even theatre popcorn has a finite life expectancy of three days once opened. A tough challenge was ahead.

Other considerations were brought to the creative table. Should the proposed #CompleteDeaths show be one that amused/pleased or disturbed? Which theatrical mood and temperature would best suit? Opposing forces often attract so, therefore, SpyMonkey eventually devised a fantastically entertaining piece that is mostly very amusing and periodically most poignant. One supposes that one must take the ruff with the smooth. Ye Olde laughs manifold (YOLM).

A ‘no holds Bard’ enormously fun evening’s entertainment…

With the final agreed figure of seventy-five deaths to deal with – the four strong cast – Aitor Basauri, Stephan Kreiss, Petra Massey and Toby (theatre in the) Park provide ‘a no holds Bard’ enormously fun evening’s entertainment with The Complete Deaths. The final edit on stage shows Shakespeare’s deaths through a variety of forms including: Straight theatre, very silly comedy, dance, faux Pina Bauch tanz und Expressionist Germanic Kunst, live art and live music. Juxtaposition is the key in this work and often we find some heart-rending pre-death acting taking place centre stage whilst slap stick chaos reigns all around the central focus.

The comical presence of a fly is a perpetual motif throughout the whole show but the dirty insect also has a Shakespearian identity associated with death. Considering this seriously important aspect of #CompleteDeaths we at East Midland’s Theatre dot com can 100% confirm that there are ‘no flies whatsoever’ on this most excellent SpyMonkey company of performers. All four of the performers have impressive theatrical pedigrees and are regularly employed to provide other actors with exemplary training in the art of clowning and comedy. They seem to get a real buzz out of their work.


The stage design for The Complete Deaths – a co-production with Brighton Festival and Royal Derngate Northampton is by Lucy Bainbridge. Music composition is by Toby Park and the impressive lighting design is by Phil Supple. As the performance regularly features a – no expense sparéd – video visitation of Mr W Shakespeare himself we would be remiss in leaving out the clear talents of video designer Sam Bailey. We can confirm. through this medium, that Will Shakespeare still looks great after 400 years of being dead.

One may consider that we have not disclosed much of the actual on stage content of this show in this review. Verily, tis true ennuff like. The best laughs come from the element of surprise and this fab show is full of such surprises. Just come and enjoy it and if you just happen to be an RSC actor furtively coming along to learn ‘summat or other’ about the common folk in Nottingham then retain these theatrical things only; Truly thou shalt be greatly praised for thine RSC actory efforts if thou followeth these rules: Stand always with thy legs apart, spitteth copiously whilst thou expoundeth and, gravely and verily point to unseen things most excessively. Mr K. Branagh might even consider employing you. Just don’t mention Macbeth. “Too late methinks. Well, la di, nonny nonny, da. What’s done cannot be undone.”

‘Dream on, dream on of bloody deeds and death.’ King Richard 111.

Highly recommended.

Runs until Saturday 11th June at Nottingham Playhouse.

dead fly  “Die Fly Die!!!!”

Reviewer: Phil Lowe.


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