Review : Cooped at Playhouse, Liverpool

Photo: Jane Hobson

By Nigel Smith

THERE’S funny, there’s hysterically funny, and then there’s Spymonkey.

Spymonkey are Aitor Basauri, Stephan Kreis, Petra Massey and Toby Park, and they have been creating a unique brand of physical comedy now for 20 years. To celebrate they have returned to one of their favourite shows, which premiered in 2001, and has been enjoyed by audiences as far afield as Australia.

Cooped begins with the quartet creating theatrical back stories for themselves before setting out to tell of strange events that take place in a creaky old mansion in the depths of Northumberlandshirehapton.

Laura Du Lay has been hired as secretary to the mysterious Forbes Murdston, who lives alone in the house apart from his unhinged butler Klaus. They are visited by Murdston’s somewhat shifty solicitor, Roger Parchment, who drops one hint after another that things may not be all that they seem.

Du Lay falls for Murdston’s matinee idol looks and suave charm, but every time she thinks she’s heading for romance he displays a Jekyll and Hyde-like propensity for violence. This is inconvenient, because she suffers from a strange condition which sends her into a paralysis whenever she sees unkindness. (Stick with me here – it gets weirder.)

Our unfortunate heroine is also plagued by vivid, nightmarish dreams, which we see through her mind as they are acted out by the cast, in increasingly strange costumes. This reaches maximum eccentricity towards the end of the first act, during a balletic extract from Handel’s Acis and Galatea, in which costumes are more or less omitted altogether, save for the occasional badly fitting figleaf. You really will never look at Handel the same way again.

Will we ever find out why Murdston has a split personality? Will we ever discover what secrets lie in the characters’ murky pasts? And will Laura Du Lay and Murdston ever find happiness together? Some, all or maybe none of these questions will be answered as the story reaches its whirlwind conclusion.

Under the direction of Cal McCrystal, Basauri, Kreis, Massey and Park throw absolutely everything into their performances in this tremendously physical, sharply funny and completely crazy show. This isn’t just laugh-out-loud funny – it reduces the audience into helpless, tear-drenched guffaws.

Spymonkey produce comedy theatre at its best, and the hysterical Cooped is at the Playhouse until Saturday. It then continues with a week in Blackpool on its way to Florida.