Last chance to catch The Complete Deaths on its UK tour will be next week at the Minerva Theatre, our first ever visit to Chichester Festival Theatre!
Here’s an interview with Toby for Chichester Festival Theatre blog:
How did the idea for The Complete Deaths come about?
We had been thinking about doing a Shakespeare comedy – ‘Two Gentlemen’ perhaps, or ‘Comedy of Errors’ – but we felt that doing a whole play with Spymonkey (of the four-member ensemble Aitor is Spanish and Stephen German) would be a stretch for us! So Tim Crouch, our writer/director collaborator, came up with the genius idea of just doing all the deaths. There’s something gloriously naive about the idea that by doing only the deaths you will get the ‘best bits’, boil the texts down to the most dramatic, the most tragic, the most important. Which is of course ridiculous – without narrative, character development, context, the deaths in Shakespeare are just the ends of journeys. That paradox seemed to be appealing to us.
How did you get involved with Director Tim Crouch for this production?
We’ve been friends for a long time. We are all based in Brighton. We like taking the mickey out of each other. Seemed a perfect combination. Tim is tremendously knowledgable about Shakespeare, he is a true scholar, plus his taste in theatre is very different to ours – he is provocateur, we are provocative in that we push the boundaries of comedy and good taste, but after that our theatrical instincts are quite diverse. So it seemed like a good fertile combination of theatrical practice. And he has a lot of experience of taking original Shakespearean text and extrapolating it, working out from that starting point to create something new, as he did with his brilliant one-man-Shakespearean monologues I Malvolio, I Banquo and I Peaseblossom.
74 deaths (75 including the fly killed in Titus Andronicus) is a lot of deaths in one show. How did you start putting them together and what was the rehearsal process like?
Tim started off by identifying all the deaths in one massive document, accompanied by the relevant text immediately preceding and following. The final tally kept changing slightly as we examined the material more closely – do Salisbury and Gargrove actually die from the explosion that rips half their faces off in Henry VI pt 1?
Some of the deaths we have lingered longingly over, and given whole scenes to – Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, Lear, Hamlet. Others we have grouped with method of death – there’s a medley of Roman suicides for example, all performed with increasing desperation by Aitor Basauri. Some of the deaths we click through at an alarming rate.
We’ve also had a lot of fun with the pretensions of modern performance art to make ever more pompous reinterpretations of Shakespeare. Some of the starting points for scenes came about through imagining how different practitioners (some who we admire, some who we think are just good comedic source material) would interpret the material. How would the great German dance-theatre guru Pina Bausch work on the deaths in Macbeth for example? So we asked one of Pina’s Tanztheater Wuppertal choreographers Theo Clinkard (handily also based in Brighton!) to work on with us.
Do people need to know a lot about Shakespeare before they see the production or can they be complete newbies to the writer’s work?
You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare or his plays to enjoy this show, we do not assume any prior knowledge whatsoever. It’s a clown show, albeit one that is about Shakespeare. And about death.
One of the most irritating sounds in theatre are those polite ripples of smugness where people ‘in the know’ about the deep etymological meanings of some Shakespearean ‘joke’ make it known to everyone else in the audience that they for one have understood it. That’s the most hideous things about Shakespearean comedy, and we think that’s a massive turn-off for anyone coming to his work fresh. On the other hand, there’s plenty in there to satisfy the Shakespeare nerds. Indeed we make the most obscure onstage death in all his work the climax of the show, and from the audience response to the show, the death that we care the most about.
What’s your favourite death scene in the show?
We all have personal favourites. Mine is Hamlet. It’s comes pretty much at the end of show, and is the culmination of everything else in it. When it goes right it is the most fantastic moment of stillness, of the whole room holding its breath.
Tell us a fascinating fact about Shakespeare we’re unlikely to know?
He never once spelt his name as ‘William Shakespeare’. Idiot.
Spymonkey directed the comic Keystone Cops sequence in 2015’s Mack & Mabel, what are you looking forward to about coming back to Chichester?
That was enormous fun working on Mack & Mabel, creating something as a part of the huge production machine that goes to making a show that size. And great that it was so well received, particularly that Keystone Cop sequence. It is exciting to bring a Spymonkey show into the Minerva for the first time, and see what your audiences make of it. I’m also hoping some of the youth theatre company that I worked with a few months ago will come along to get a taste of our work, they were a really talented and motivated bunch of people and I think they will enjoy it.
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing the production?
Huge roars of laughter. Joy in being together. Moments of unexpected wonder.
And a set of ‘Great Shakespearean Deaths Card-Gayme’ which we created with illustrator and children’s laureate Chris Riddell.
Ooh and a souvenir programme. I designed them, they are pretty nice.
Toby Park, managing artistic director Spymonkey, Brighton Feb 2017