Spymonkey, Stiff - A Tragedy

Review in Issue 11-1 | Spring 1999

Spymonkey transgress the ultimate taboo with this black comedy set in the twilight world of the undertaking business. The mood is cod Victorian – all top hat and tails and the traditional trappings of the funeral trade – and the company elicit plenty of laughs from this simple high-camp melodrama. The narrative, such as it is, catalogues a trail of mishaps and misdemeanours performed by a company of comically incompetent undertakers as they dispatch the recently deceased wife of a mysterious Victorian gentleman.

The rituals that surround death are rich with comic potential and Spymonkey plumb the depths of bad taste to exploit every last opportunity for a cheap laugh. From a corpse that won't lie still on the slab, to a sardonic puppet show in which dismembered body parts perform a final mad dance from out of the coffin, Stiff confronts death with careless abandon. Although most of the comic routines are quite stylishly executed, the show really only has one gag and the rudimentary characterisations make it all seem a bit too one-dimensional. All the performers are good enough and Petra Massey in particular distinguishes herself as a superlative comedian. But arguably the show is branded too heavily by the trademark of its director Cal McCrystal, previously known for his work with Peepolykus.

There is more than just a hint of Peepolykus in the treatment of Stiff and I suspect the company are capable of achieving a more distinctive style. Like Peepolykus, Spymonkey's show is more a sequence of strung-together set-pieces than an integrated piece of theatre. Whilst the relaxed ease of the company's rambling and sometimes shambolic style is often endearing, the show could clearly benefit from a little sharpening. But as a first work from a new company, Stiff shows promise of better things to come.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jan 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-1
p. 21