Clever, Surreal and Very Funny Play About Donkeys And Politics
Penny Flood reviews Montagu, at the Tabard Theatre
If you think donkeys are only docile creatures that give little children rides at the seaside, think again.
This time it's a clever political allegory about leadership, power and legacy as they apply to a herd of donkeys. Yep, you read that right - a herd of donkeys.
The arguments that swirl around are the sort of serious stuff you might hear on Question Time, but when it comes from characters with donkey ears and little hooves, who have a very donkey-centric view of the world, it takes on a surreal quality. It's very clever and very funny.
The donkeys are living in turbulent times, one half of the herd disagrees with the other half, fights are breaking out and something has to be done to restore peace and order. What they need is a leader to sort them out, but who wants the job when leaders are being bumped of at an alarming rate? The last incumbent, Butch, didn't make it through the night.
Montagu is getting on years, he's a peaceful donkey who asks for nothing more than to pass his days walking in circles and sleeping under his tree. Fat chance! There's been an election and, much to his horror, he's got the top job, and he hasn't got the first idea where to start. Happily Cupcake, Shadow and Smokey are on hand to sort him out.
All the action takes place in a lovely setting by Montagu's tree. Crows caw, birds sing and the sun is shining, but there are dead bulls piling up in the next field, there's bovine excrement in strange places, political assassins are around every corner, and there's some strange green stuff in the tree.
Christian Anholt, on his fourth visit to The Tabard, is a terrific Montagu. With a permanently worried expression and drooping ears he shuffles around, never quite sure of what's going on around him. He's more interested in looking for pictures in the clouds than in politics, but there's nothing he can do about it. The herd has elected him as leader and he has to lead, not that he knows where to start. Happily (or not), Cupcake, Shadow and Smokey are on hand to help.
Cupcake (Evelyn Craven) may be the smallest and cutest donkey in the herd but she doesn't live up to her name, being more of a Lady MacBeth than a sweetie. She has a radical vision for the herd and Montagu is her chosen vessel to deliver it. Curiously we never get to find out exactly what her vision is, but there's a promised land in there somewhere, (this is twenty first century politics, after all). Cupcake is usually accompanied by her obedient companion, Shadow (Georgia Robson). Weighed down by weary resignation, her job is to agree with Cupcake even when she's knows it's wrong, and there's an awful lot wrong and it's getting worse.
Smokey is a Rastafarian donkey with dreadlocks (yes, really) who speaks in a strange hybrid patois liberally sprinkled with innits and bruvs, who has appointed himself Montagu's mentor. He calls himself Old Smokey and speaks of himself in the third person. Smokey is the late Butch's twin brother and both are played by Jerome Ngonadi. Old Smokey is hilarious with lots of ideas, but whose side is he really on? And aren't some of his ideas a bit extreme: is a proxy war really the answer? Poor Montagu, always slightly behind the curve, is beginning to wonder, not without reason, who he can trust.
And then Montagu begins to change. The power (not that he's done anything) has gone to his head, partly because he's discovered it's an aphrodisiac. But, all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes, so will the lovely, gentle Montagu become a tyrant?
And so the four of them bubble along for 90 glorious minutes, as the plot twists and turns, misunderstandings abound, with political skullduggery, murder, self aggrandisement and plenty of intrigue. Greg Freeman's bonkers, off-the-wall take on things makes his plays very special and worth watching, and this one is no exception.
Montagu runs from 23 May – 17 June 2017 on Tuesday to Saturdays at 7.30pm.
Tickets are priced £16/£12 and you can book online at www.tabardtheatre.co.uk or 020 8995 6035.
May 26, 2017