Let me just start by saying this; good God its good…scratch that, its bloody fantastic!
I’m still on a high from last nights visit to see Monkey: Journey to the West, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s deeply, deeply wonderful circus opera – nothing I’ve seen comes close to the spectacle that this offers. Take equal parts of a Shaolin Monks show, animated spectacular, comic opera and wire-fu extravaganza and you begin to approach the genius of this endeavor – if they don’t tour with it afterwards for a wider public then it will be a crying shame – this is something that just has to be seen.
From the opening animated scenes (all rendered in a style familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Gorillaz video) to the final field of flowers consisting of dancers spinning multiple plates – and still forming a pyramid – it seers itself onto you brain, grips the imagination and puts a giant goofy grin on your face – no one in the audience afterwards said they had less than a wonderful time. They should bottle this as a cure for depression so immediate is its effect on your disposition.
Given the spectacular action, sets, design and everything else you’d be forgiven for thinking that the music would be secondary, almost forgettable. Fortunately this is not the case, Albarn seems to have fashioned the worlds first Bubblegum Opera, bouncing from what sounds like Clytus Gottwold inspired experimental sound scapes to catchy pop that you could almost imagine Alisha’s Attic producing ten years ago. Everything is designed to just ensure that the maximum fun possible from the situation is wrung.
And then there’s Monkey – clad in a Bruce Lee style yellow tracksuit he never stands still for moment, only ever shouts and is utterly adorable. Through body language alone what could be the most annoying character possible (the one who can do everything) is instantly likeable ,indeed everything seems a little less alive when he’s not present (which isn’t much of the performance – so physically demanding is the role that there are two people to play the on consecutive nights). But then again, so is everyone else. The lightest of ideas introduce characters that you cannot help but care about. You love Tripitaka just because of the stylised way he walks (and yes, it is played by a women, but its a male character), wonderful details like this make it all the better.
And now the bad news, its only running till the 7th July 2007 and I’m not sure if there’s an intention to tour (see my earlier comment). Tickets are sold out, and the queue for returns was very long. But hopefully given its success this won’t be the last we see of it.