written for MusicOMH (yes! I'm alive!)
It is easy to get confused when you arrive at the Lyric Hammersmith for this new production by the comedy theatre group Peepolykus. I had been led to believe – not least by the promotional material – that I would be seeing a new play called Spyski!, but on receipt of my tickets and programme, it was clear that something else altogether was going on: the programme has the words “The Importance Of Being Earnest (Absolutely not Spyski!... no way... no spies al all)” on the front, and the cast are listed as playing Gwendolen, Algernon, Lady Bracknell et al. Odd.
As the play gets underway, however, things quickly become (slightly) clearer. The performance of The Importance Of Being Earnest is actually a sham, a cover story, and so as soon as the rather conspicuous guy in the front row sporting a balaclava and walkie-talkie leaves the auditorium, the actors throw off their costumes and tell us, conspiratorially, why they’re really here.
They are going to use their talents to explain to the world, through the medium of a hastily put-together reconstruction, how they became caught up in a global conspiracy involving double agents, intrigue, murder, a genetically modified baby, and a hell of a lot of furry Russian hats. Oh, and some seriously bad accents.
The idea that this reconstruction has been cobbled together by the actors themselves in just three days means that there is a lot of fun to be had in terms of handmade wobbly sets, improvised props (using a brass gramophone horn as a Chinese hat is particularly memorable) and the doubling and tripling up of parts.
Of course, making something look as though it has been thrown together actually takes a lot of effort – the Reduced Shakespeare Company have been masters of this for nearly twenty years now - and while there were a few stumbles over words and names, the technical side of this production worked beautifully.
Spyski! is, above all else, a farce (there is a lot of the obligatory door-slamming and drawn-out misunderstandings) and without that level of rehearsal it would be a seriously clunky production, but as it is director David Farr deserves a lot of praise for such creative use of props, and the cast deserve praise for making it all so slick.
It is clear that real care and joy has been taken in the conception and creation of Spyski!; the energy is sky-high, the pace is lightning-quick, and the sheer inventiveness of the production means that it is a truly enjoyable night out. But I think that is all it is. As light as a feather and as frothy as your morning cappuccino, it is two-hour’s worth of well-constructed silliness, and if you are looking for something to make you think, or hoping to see something, dare I say it, even particularly memorable, then this isn’t for you. If, however, your theatre-going also includes rather more cerebral fare, then there’s no reason not to add this to your wish-list, and just have a jolly good laugh.