Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Hartlepool Monkey -Review- Northern Stage

We all know the tail of the Hartlepool Monkey, but if we are unsure how Fuel Theatres magical
production will end, and perhaps as a warning to the younger audience members, the actors reveal the ending at the very beginning. A monkey will be hung.

It’s the beginning of the 19th century in a small northern coastal town. The villagers look after their own, but are fearful of French invasion and starvation as their one and only fishing boat is sank by the French. The village elders, pillocks of the community, try to dissuade the villagers seeking help from as far away as Middlesbrough, for fear that their self serving tax plans will be figured out. The landlord is struggling to make ends meet himself as his stores are bled dry, but refuses help from his son, dismissing him as young and daft.

Meanwhile a young French girl Clemence, has stowed away on a battleship to fight the English and kill King George. She finds a mischievous creature in the bowels of the ship, and they find themselves the only survivors of their wrecked ship, washed up on the Hartlepool shore.

The small ensemble jump between roles at breakneck speed and with boundless enthusiasm. A cleverly designed set by Samual Wyre and lighting design by Matt Daws help transport us from Battleship to shore to Tavern in an instant. There is never a dull moment.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Gyre and Gimble’s puppet monkey, Napoleon. Operated with breathtaking skill by Fred Davis, and the rest of the ensemble, the acrobatic Napoleon jumps and swings around the stage. Including a hilarious set piece as the playful primate causes havoc in the sleeping town.

This really is a show that younger theatre goers should love. There is however a disturbing torture scene that is just about as full on as puppet violence can get, more so even than the plays climax. However the 8 year old girl near me seemed more entranced than distressed.

The fear and xenophobia of the villagers, miss-information in the press and self interest of the leaders, brings this play to its inevitable conclusion. Whilst something much more sinister is going on under their noses.

It’s a story that is pertinent to our time. With 70% of Hartlepudlians voting leave in the EU Referendum last year, we are left asking has anything changed? The play explores the themes around the referendum result in a very human way. Self serving elders, ‘Fake news’, the old disrespecting the young, ‘economic anxiety’, fear of outsiders and looking after our own. It’s a lesson that a 10 year old can easily understand, that sometimes you can get so scared you forget to be kind. It’s also a lesson that 51% of the electorate need to understand.

K. Katurian

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