Oedipussy – A Mother of all Comedies at the Lyric

Great gags and perfect pratfalls make for a very silly Sophocles discovers Liz Vercoe

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Possibly recklessly I asked my theatre-loving teenage son if he wanted to see this production with me. “It’s about Oedipus…but it’s funny,” I ended lamely, wondering whether to show him the show’s photos of middle-aged men in nappies. “Could be just as bad going with Dad,” he replied sagely. “O killed his dad. Then he married his mother. Then blinded himself.” Well that was the plot sorted.

Wisely he went to look at Spymonkey’s website to see what this wild theatre company, creators of the acclaimed “Stiff”, might do with it and came back with a yes. Sophocles’ tale of misadventure and mistaken identity in which, in about 450BC, he pinned down the concept of “what goes around, comes around”, is taken to new heights (classicists might say lows) by a great deal of silliness, face pulling, wooden swords and monocycles.

Some of it is inspired, such as the puppetry accompanying the song “Leprosy’s not Funny”, which is worthy of the Python’s Life of Brian, and the Oracle blundering around blindly when its all-seeing eye floats off into the audience.
But, rather like its director Emma Rice’s recent west end musical The Umbrella’s of Cherbourg, in other places it’s inconsistent.

The James Bondisms that Oedipussy opens with, the guns, poses and gold catsuits, soon disappear. And the various asides by the cast of four, when they each “secretly” declare to the audience their desire to leave the company and go solo, are uneven. All play on the fact that they are getting too old for this sort of malarkey and you do rather wonder how long this highly energetic clowning and physical theatre can be kept up. These guys aren’t keeping this fit at twice-a-week Pilates classes. Maybe this is why, despite the innuendo of the title and Spymonkey’s reputation for getting their kit off on stage, there’s only one nude scene and that’s funny rather than frisky.

For clowns supreme they are, and you can’t help but laugh, even with your mother or your son beside you. It’s just so cheerful and basically blush free. The cast of four, who have worked together as Spymonkey for 11 years, comprises Aitor Basauri, Petra Massey, Stephan Kreiss and Toby Park. And a bit like with the Beatles, everyone will have their favourite. Aitor transforming the tails of his coat into a flock of sheep is magical. Petra Massey ranging from sex kitten-come-alley cat to bandy-legged neurotic vies with Stephan Kreiss’s gambolling teenage Oedipus and moaning Germanic 50-year-old. Meanwhile the musically gifted Toby Park holds it all together, and not just as the narrator with a wobbly Greek column on his head.

The music throughout works a treat, whether it’s original material from Park and Neil Filby or the ironic use of Eels’ "It’s A Motherf****r" at the close when the cast sit, or rather flop, before the audience as if waiting for judgement on their departure into a “grown up” subject.

The response is a roar of applause from an audience that has very much left its inner adult at home.

Liz Vercoe

For tickets,  call the Box Office on 0871 22 117 29 or book online. The play is being performed until April 21st.

April 13, 2012