Proper title Monkey: Journey to the West. The west here is India, to the west of the western desert, but it could also been construed as here in London. Based on the pillar of Chinese literature, the Monkey King whatever whatever. For those not familiar, think of a cross between Don Quixote, Buffy (only with more actual sex), the Young Ones and the Gospel according to Luke. The famous novel is thoroughly comi-serious. Mallory and Python in one sprawling package.
How could I not be a fan? This first came to my notice before its premiere in Manchester in 2007. Fascinated! Why? let's see : arrrt (Hewlitt), martial and otherwise, cheeky monkeys, Chinese culture, Blur-y musical wildness, Mandarin.
Organisational crapness, and not wanting to sit in a crowded Pendolino all the way to Manc, prevented me from joining in. If my monkey-brain is right, I was probably tragically over-involved in the usual tussles, so come the weekend, phuh!
The show has now productionised itself, and is in the middle of a stint at the do.. er O2. Well not quite, a shaky tent just outside. So think circus-style wobbly bleachers and slightly dodgy canvas walls. All black though, to set off Jamie Hewlitt's art and the red lanterns, emblazoned with the ever-present monkey glyph.
en passant, I quite liked the whole Brit-cit 2000 AD scenario of train, tube, dome. More or less what I had imagined aged 12, less any flying cars.
What we saw then, was quite brilliant, though not the totally immersive spectacle that I'd imagined. Each of the set-pieces was great, and there was music and action and emotion in each one. The various scenes followed the genesis of each character, drawing on various elements and forces as a result. The Dalian circus performers were marvellous, spinning and flipping and posing, either in specific characters or fighters or as part of a background fantastic world. Costumes and props were clever, witty and stunning.
The music was weird and jangly (Damon Albarn does this very well), just how I like it. We had a good view of the band, which was a nice bonus.
Sung, yelped, growled and shouted in Mandarin, the words were probably incomprehensible to most (though maybe not, lots of Chinese faces in the audience) but I managed to grasp the odd word, e.g. DA SI NI MEN !! Quite encouraging really.
The main linking device between scenes was a closing of the screens and a chance to drool over a Hewlitt animation. These were often delightfully linked to the live-action through lighting effects. Maybe the links were a bit long, there was obviously quite a bit of scene shifting and re-costuming to be done, but somehow it felt like 9 lumps (of course, 9! the final scene being in heaven) and not a single great story all wound together as one, like.
Why was that? Limits of the medium? Not being in the front? Monkey's numb bum?
Still, there was so much to look at and think about, that the normally rip-off program was a bargain, stuffed as it was it gorgeous illustrations and nerdy details. Even a proper bibliography.
The soundtrack, which I've had for a few months now without making sense of, linguistically or otherwise, is now going to get a good rummage.