All the deaths in Shakespeare

Spymonkey
Spymonkey

There are 74 on-stage deaths in the works of William Shakespeare (75 if you count the black ill-favoured fly killed in Titus Andronicus).

Brighton-based Spymonkey bring them all to the stage of Chichester’s Minerva Theatre (February 14-18) in The Complete Deaths, adapted and directed by Tim Crouch.

From the Roman suicides in Julius Caesar to the death fall of Prince Arthur in King John; from the carnage at the end of Hamlet to snakes in a basket in Antony and Cleopatra. And then there’s the pie that Titus serves his guests…

Toby Park, managing artistic director and performer, admits: “It’s a good idea – an idea that our collaborator and writer-director Tim came up with. We were knocking around thoughts about what to do for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and we thought about doing various plays. But there are two English members in the company and one German and one Spanish, and we felt that with two non-native English-speaking actors, it would be pretty tough work for everybody to attempt a whole play. We were thinking of fun ways to do things, and Tim came up with the idea of doing the complete deaths. He had seen a Canadian puppet company, and they had done a show a few years back called Great Puppet Deaths which he enjoyed. It came from that.

“And I remember as a kid doing great death scenes, having great fun dying spectacularly and rolling down a bank. It appealed to our sense of the macabre, our sense of dark humour, and it also gave us a clear connection with the audience. We are saying that we are going to do all the deaths in Shakespeare, and that’s what we do. We have a Lady Death who sits at the side of the stage with an LED number and screen display. As each death clicks off, she pushes a button and there is a factory hooter that sounds. There is an LED display above the stage, telling you the name of the character and the play it is from.

“Sometimes we attempt to do a whole scene like the death from Romeo & Juliet, but some of the deaths in the history plays you have to go through quickly. In the three parts of Henry VI, you get a third of all the all the deaths on stage in Shakespeare, and they are characters that nobody has heard of. They are like little footnotes in history. For those, we have found some creative ways of clicking through them at quite a rate.

“The challenge was finding a dramatic tension that lasted the whole of the evening so that the audience actually cares. The way we do that is that we have taken ourselves, the four of us, trying to do this strange thing, this wonderful task. There is a storyline that goes through the show, about four performers becoming overwhelmed by the task ahead of them. My character is quite artistically pretentious. It is my project to do this thing, and the other three are helping me to do it but they get distracted or find more entertaining ways of doing it. But some of them we have turned into production numbers. Like Cleopatra. She is re-imagined as an Egyptian-Bollywood dance number, Cleopatra and her three asps!”

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