To mark their 20th-anniversary year, Brighton-based Spymonkey are remounting their production Cooped which made them an international comedy sensation, from Just For Laughs Montreal to the Sydney Opera House.
Cooped comes to the Pavilion Theatre, Worthing from Wednesday, May 22 to Sunday, May 26, programmed by Worthing Theatres in partnership with Brighton Festival.
Described as Hitchcock’s Rebecca meets The Pink Panther, the show comes promised as a pulp gothic romance overflowing with brilliant characters, rip-roaring farce and virtuoso physical comedy. Among the elements are a spooky mansion, a plucky young heroine, a handsome English aristocrat, a German butler and a Spanish soap star. Put them all together and you have got Spymonkey in their purest form, says company co-founder, performer and managing artistic director Toby Park: “It is amazing how fast the anniversary has come around really, but I think we have stuck around because we really like working with each other. We also work with a lot of other people. We have all got side projects, but this always feels like coming home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
“We met while we were working for a Swiss open-air theatre company. We were doing these really big shows with lots of pyro and huge effects, and it was great. It was really good fun, but it was quite difficult to do anything that really felt like it belonged to us. We were definitely working for them. We were guns for hire. But really we were just looking for a little show to do that winter. When we first started thinking about the company, we were all working in Switzerland together. At the end of 97 we spent a week together at the Central School of Speech and Drama just mucking about and the idea of a show about undertakers started to take shape. I spent a year gathering money and gigs and bookings for what became Stiff.”
The show played at Brighton’s Komedia in December 1998: “We took it to Edinburgh. It won a Total Theatre award and did very well. But when you come to your second show as a company, that’s when you start to ask yourselves who you are in a way that you don’t do with your first show because there are no expectations.”
That second show was Cooped, and as Toby says, it has become associated with the company in a way that Stiff never did: “Cooped opened in Edinburgh in 2001 and then we performed in Switzerland and Hungary and took it to Canada and then we worked with Cirque du Soleil.
“We were their comedy stuff for two years, and when we came out of Cirque du Soleil, we really wanted to do some more stuff with Cooped. We made it more mid-scale and we added more material, and really it was the show that made our reputation. It is the purest of our shows in the sense of its sense of humour and its enjoyment of the audience’s laughter, taking the audience with it on a great wave of laughter that comes crashing down on the beach. People talk about our shows being the funniest shows that they have ever seen, and that’s what we want to do – create a company that creates the funniest shows you have ever seen!”