Review: THE FROGS, Kiln Theatre

Tears of the clowns: Spymonkey use tragedy to create sublime comedy.

By: Feb. 12, 2024
Review: THE FROGS, Kiln Theatre

Review: THE FROGS, Kiln Theatre Considering their recent losses, physical theatre giants Spymonkey would have been justified to adapt a Greek tragedy rather than a comedy. The death of Stephan Kreiss in 2021 and the departure of Petra Massey to Las Vegas now leaves only Toby Park and Aitor Bassauri of the quartet that produced riotous shows like Moby Dick, Oedipussy and The Complete Deaths which ran through all of the mortalities in Shakespeare’s plays.

There's no doubt these clowns have shed some tears; their own sadness and particular blend of madness have led to this loose adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Frogs. Hedonist half-god Dionysus (Park) and his slave Xanthias (Bassauri) travel to the underworld to retrieve the poet Euripedes. Along the way and after much soul-searching, the pair decide to bring back Kreiss instead.

Review: THE FROGS, Kiln Theatre
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

As per usual, Spymonkey don’t so much break the fourth wall as smash right through it.  And, if they can, why can’t I? Hi, I’m Franco and I’m your critic for the next few hundred words. Other reviews are available to your left and right unless you are on the mobile site, in which case hang tight. Either way, your statutory rights remain unaffected.

Before scooting off to Google the hell out of me and check out my holiday pics, let me say that I’m not completely new or averse to the charms of Spymonkey. I interviewed Massey in her home around a dozen years ago where she talked about her origins as a street performer, being told off personally by Cirque du Soleil’s billionaire boss for baring her breasts and the unique way in which Kreiss was auditioned. This company's trademark blend of absurdist humour, slapstick antics and intelligent exploration of sensitive topics never fails to tickle my heart, mind or funny bones.

I digress and for which I apologise. This review won’t write itself, the tea is getting cold, I've run out of biscuits and we all have other places we need to be. The third member of The Frog’s cast is Jacoba Williams who plays various roles including Heracles and the foul creatures of Hades. She is a sparky and assured presence throughout and, with the help of Joyce Henderson’s zippy direction and Carl Grose’s confident writing, is seamlessly integrated into the usual Spymonkey malarkey. Lucy Bradridge’s zany outfits are as bonkers as one could expect.

Review: THE FROGS, Kiln Theatre
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Aristophane’s original work was, as we find out, the earliest known example of the buddy-buddy movie and, watching the trio travelling to some MacGuffin of a destination satirising theatre tropes along the way, there are definite similarities between The Frogs with The Road To… movies of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. And with his cheeky pranks and audience winks, the chemistry between Park and Bassauri has more than the pleasant nostalgia of 80s double-act Cannon and Ball about it. 

The Frogs has the scent of an interim work, the bridge from a sturdy back catalogue into this nascent phase that Bassauri and Park are calling “Theatre Of The Funny”. The show’s narrative energy is defined as much by the cast on stage as those being remembered here; I surely can’t have been the only one in the room who suddenly had something in the eye when they stated how much they needed to bring their friend Stephan back from the dead.

By the end, I wanted Massey to burst forth from the set, from the audience, from above, from anywhere just to bring some moment of relief to the very real grimness among the fictional fun and physical antics. Some of the finest clowning ever has been borne of sorrow and loss and, whatever inspires their next steps, I suspect Spymonkey’s best days are still ahead of them.

The Frogs continues at Kiln Theatre until 2 March.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan




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