Saturday, 25 April 2015

Monkey: journey to the west. Theatre of Image, Canberra Theatre

Generation X grew up with Monkey, The Goodies and Doctor Who. The Goodies did a live tour a couple of years ago, and Doctor Who made a comeback about a decade ago ... and now it's the turn of Monkey.

Of course, it's not quite the same - given Monkey was based on a 16th century Chinese novel, it's out of copyright enough that it can be adapted without having to pay much heed to the 70's version  -and indeed, apart from publicity referencing "Monkey Magic" (which was never the name of the show ... and I know this is my hang up on accuracy, but it still annoys me). Still, the primary quartet of Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy are all present and accounted for, dutifully engaged in a quest westwards to retrieve sacred scrolls from India.

There's some lovely attractive design here from Kim Carpenter (creator, co-director and designer), with puppetry small and large, projections and some rich costuming to present the various strange creatures encountered along the way. And the four lead performances are consistently strong - Aijin Abella is impish, active and loveable as Monkey, Darren Gilshenan's Pigsy is a perfectly grotesque disgusting slob, Justin Smith's Sandy has a blissed-out-Nimbin Hippy-vibe, and Aileen Huynh's Tripitaka is the perfect straight-man to them all. Scott Witt's movement makes the numerous fights entertainingly gymnastic, and the supporting cast perform various roles (and occasional scenery) with aplomb.

If it isn't perfect it's slightly that the plot is a tad repetetitve (basically, the four are threatened by a demon, they fight it off, they meet another one... then they get to india and the show wraps up rather suddenly). The background music is delightful, but the songs are slightly less so - they don't quite have the sense of fun of the rest of the show, and don't have the virtue otherwise of acting as a reflective thematic break in otherwise frantic action.  There isn't a lot of depth here, but as spectacle and as an entertainment, it hits several right buttons. The ticket price is also pretty darn reasonable for a touring pro production ($45 for adults). So worth watching with expectations suitably modified.