"Wildly funny deconstructed Dickens classic"
by Ed Barrett for remotegoat on 14/12/18

From the moment Charles Dickens (in the shape of Aitor Basauri) steps onstage with a Spanish accent and the power of hypnosis, you know you’re in for quite a ride with this hilariously anarchic version of A Christmas Carol.

Toby Park is pitch perfect as Scrooge, handling verbal and physical comedy with equal aplomb; whilst Petra Massey and Sophie Russell – like the aforementioned Mr. Basauri – bring so much verve and character to multiple roles that, even with a cast of only four, the stage never feels under-populated (except when it’s made to feel so for comic effect).

The production skates as close to chaos as possible, without ever actually tipping into the impending failure that feels ever-present. The stuff that ‘goes wrong’ is handled so deftly it is occasionally impossible to tell which is a perfectly rehearsed and performed set piece, and which an actual mishap made part of the show by some wonderful improv. Either would be equally impressive.

As it stands, you could extract virtually any ten-minute section and have a small-but-perfectly-formed segment of a cabaret.

This sense of fun is never clearer than in the moments that combine the company’s physical and verbal dexterity – in Spymonkey’s hands, even getting down from a high desk becomes a source of absolute hilarity, with the accompanying verbal riff becoming funnier and funnier with each iteration. Who knew four such simple words were actually the funniest four words in the English language?

Director Ed Gaughan has a light enough touch to allow several moments to feel unrehearsed, whilst at the same time it is perfectly clear that this apparent effortlessness can only be bought by great effort, commitment and concentration. It wouldn’t take much for some of these moments to fall flat; but they never do.

Sound, set and costumes similarly allow the performances to shine.

The daftness continues after the interval, though, for me, there seems to be a slight separation between the comic turns and the spine of the story; not so much a loss of focus, as a sight diminishment in the resonance between the different strands that made the first half such a joy.

Whilst the second half doesn’t quite live up to the first, though, it certainly comes close. If this dynamic was the other way round - with a perfect second half building on an almost-perfect first – I might be petitioning RemoteGoat for an extra Christmas star, so I could award six. In fact, I have no qualms describing it as a four-and-a-half star show, and award it five on the grounds that to only award four would be a little Scrooge-like, given the fact that Spymonkey have managed to deconstruct a Christmas classic to hilarious effect, whilst still channelling the spirit of the original.

And the funniest four words in the English language?

You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

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