Not Spyski, absolutely no spies anywhere. Just The Importancia of Bean Hernesto.

Spyski. Nuffield Theatre. Southampton. Sat 28 March 2009.

“You have to ask yourself one question: Are you a horse, or a sheep?” This, and here on your imaginary forces work, asked in a dense Spanish accent spoken by the charmingly entertaining Javier Marzan.

Perhaps I ought to explain what’s going on in this review. In attempting to describe the anarchic chaos of Peepolykus’ production, I have faced the difficulties of writing down in a linear format the undulating, ever decreasing circles of their performance. So I have decided to plaster down memories as they pop into my mind.

The play began as an apparently uninspiring performance of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. As the delightfully English toffs guffawed and brayed around the stage, there appeared in the front row a not inconspicuous gentleman dressed all in black, carrying a radio and sporting a rather natty balaclava. Whilst Wilde had got to the cucumber sandwiches gags, the security guy’s radio went off and the suspicious gentleman made a dash for it.

At this point the actors on stage disrobed themselves of costume and addressed the audience. Apparently we were now involved in finding out the truth behind the dastardly plot of MI5, MI6, The FBI, the CIA and the FSB to fool us all! We were then treated to a re-enactment of the previous day’s events involving the actors and how they had unintentionally been drawn into a web of international espionage, lies and deceit.

Throughout the play we were drawn in and out of the action using a range of metatheatrical techniques, with the occasional “this is actually happening, now, live” as agents of destruction were wrestled to the floor; and indeed shot by accident through the auspices of hapless actors.

Now having looked back at this so far it strikes me that perhaps the whole thing sounds a little serious: but no. This was a riotously funny production, with a selection of verbal and visual gags. As always I came away with a firm favourite, in the shape of Javier Marzan. He played alternately, himself (A Spanish actor desperate to play an English Lord), Stanislavlavski, a Russian spy, and Dr Chasuble. There were some truly memorable lines (“The Angel of Death is hoovering over me”, “Floppy, fluffy bunnies”, “Are you a sheep or a horse?”) and his performance was a treasure.

John Nicholson, with his oval faced expression of perpetual confusion, was also a treat and who, at one or two points in the largely comic play, brought fleeting moments of genuine pathos. The blossoming love between him and Rhona Croker (playing the Nurse who inadvertently becomes embroiled in the subterfuge) was quietly sweet and endearing and added to the general feeling of warmth the play exuded.

Visually this was a very strong piece, with rapid and flowing scene changes and a most outstanding swap round of props. (Geek note: the production was designed by the talented Mr. Tom Piper, who designed the Histories for the RSC) Whether these were snows from the arctic tundra, close up footage of communist bloc maternity wards, or the funky disco train of John’s dream sequence we were whisked away with the action, propelled along the increasingly eccentric storyline.

With another viewing or two I am certain even more quotable quotes would stand out. (and as I write a few more float up: “Why are you dressed like Colin Firth?” “Spin your appetisers” “Look out for the Chinese”)

Yet whilst definitely amusing and energetic I liked the more serious central precept of the play; that the ‘one true independent voice’ was in the theatre. Fantastic.

The play ends with a cry to arms- to tell everyone the truth, to pass on the message about the governmental conspiracy. So here I am: Maybe not telling about the cover ups, but defiantly shouting about Peepolykus and their current work of comedy gold.

Fluffy Floppy Bunnies.


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