YOU can hardly move in Northampton at the moment without spotting a poster for the intriguingly-titled Oedipussy, a comedy about, of all things, an incestuous Greek tragedy.
It’s performed by Spymonkey, an accomplished physical theatre group with faces you vaguely recognise but then aren’t sure if you’re mixing them up with others: Petra Massey of Miranda and Hyperdrive fame reminded me of Tracey Ullman circa her Three of a Kind years, while Toby Park has something of the bewildered Mark Heap about him, Stephan Kreiss is a funnier, German version of Stephen Frost from Whose Line is it Anyway while the hilarious Aitor Basauri is a one-off – a deadpan clown whose physicality and expression carried the whole show. So, is it worth the hype? We’d been promised laughs, our audience trooped in to the smell of fresh paint – last minute set change perhaps? And then the four-strong cast told how their last show had received a poor review. This one was going to make up for it.
Switch then to the story of Oedipus – you should swot-up on Wikipedia if your Greek mythology isn’t up to scratch – where a baby is dispatched to die in the hills to avoid the Oracle’s prediction of son-kills-dad-marries-mum coming true.
Mixing a static set with multiple character and costume changes, the troop tell the ancient tale with tongues firmly in cheeks. The performers literally throw themselves into it, with plenty of laughs coming from the fact these are not fresh young teenagers straight out of theatre school. They’ve had to drag themselves to the gym to get themselves in shape and battle the aging process all in the name of slapstick. I fully believed the lines about being on painkillers to make it through the show night after night. If it had been performed by younger actors, it wouldn’t have been as funny.
There were weaker sections. I liked some of the actor’s soliloquies, particularly Toby Park’s heartfelt description of his high-achieving family, but they sometimes unnecessarily interrupted the frantic flow of the narrative. The first half took a good half hour to fully engage the bemused audience, but once the story was in full flow the pace and energy took most of the observers along for the ride.
I was with a group of 19-22 year old students who just didn’t get a lot of the references – PlayAway, Bond films, Wilson, Keppel & Betty’s sand dance and Morrison shelters flew over their heads. But they did laugh at the strange grown-ups running around in nappies. By contrast, a large percentage of the audience were of pensionable age and they were falling about in the aisles.
There is a flash of full-fronted nudity (hence the warnings on the posters and the advice that it’s not for under-14s) but I’m not sure it serves its purpose for a single, albeit funny, joke.
There’s clever and comic use of props and effects – low-fi gory cascading blood, a 70s sci-fi hint to the costumes, Aitor’s show-stealing lepers, silly and sad songs and hilarious Oracle eyes that just reminded me of Cookie Monster from the Muppets.
Oedipussy is a dazzling show, performed by highly-competent actors who have fully honed their craft. Having reviewed dozens of shows over the years, I was relieved that nothing irritated or bored me about it. I laughed solidly throughout, but could also see others around me just not getting the joke.
It’s undoubtedly bold and bizarre, as is Spymonkey’s way, and you can imagine it going down a storm at Edinburgh’s Fringe. But it’s starting its run in Northampton’s traditional Victorian Royal Theatre, and once you get your head around that, you can sit back and enjoy another piece of innovative theatre Made in Northampton.
Oedipussy runs in Northampton until February 18.
Book your tickets now, go on, via www.royalandderngate.co.uk or on 01604 624811.