Monkey: Journey to the West: Review

Alan Yentob at Monkey: Journey to the WestKatharine and I were lucky enough to score some free tickets to the public dress rehearsal of Monkey: Journey to the West last night, which must rank as Manchester’s most anticipated arts event ever. It opens and is the jewel in the crown of the Manchester International Festival, the world’s first international festival of original, new work.

About ten years ago Manchester had a festival sponsored by Boddingtons, but in truth few events were created especially for that. If you happened to be doing a bit of theatre or comedy anyway while that festival was on, they’d happily include you in the programme. This is radically different, very serious, adventurous and brave. Getting people to go to new work is not easy. When I was promoting pub theatre all the critics turned up for the work by new writers and devoted acres of newsprint to us. But the theatre going public stayed at home. Then we put on some classic Stoppard and sold out, with far less publicity.

I can’t show you any pics from the show, which is a great shame given that this is a most grand spectacle. But I can show you BBC Arts Supremo Alan Yentob whose presence, with documentary crew, tells us this is a Big Thing. Yentob’s Imagine blog has much more, including video, interviews et cetera. I’m not such a great celebrity watcher, but nobody could miss Su Pollard who sat directly behind us and behaved as if the Hi-De-Hi! cameras were still rolling. Bless her, if you are so inclined.

Anyway. What of Monkey: Journey to the West itself. I guess you know it’s an opera composed by Damon Albarn and designed by Jamie Hewlett who also created some fantastic animated sequences that blend seamlessly with the live action thanks to the great skill of director and adapter Chen Shi-Zheng. That stage action is a breathtaking circus that showcases the contortionists’ talents and includes plenty of flying.

It really shouldn’t work because so much has been thrown into the pot you’d think it would trip over itself. But we do get a proper story told through a character driven narrative and with some truly spectacular fight scenes. Monkey himself is a most unpleasant character well beyond cheeky – catchphrase: ‘I’m going to beat you to death!’ – who gets what he wants by sheer brute force. But then Tripitaka, the monk who rescues and joins him on his journey is such a wimp… Pigsy could have been borrowed from the Wizard of Oz. Oh yeah, there’s comedy too!

Just go see it. You will be transfixed.

4 thoughts on “Monkey: Journey to the West: Review

  1. my jaw dropped for the first ten minutes or so – we went to see a preview on wednesday, it looked like it hadn’t been performed that many times, because there were some problems linking up the scenes – each individual scene was fantastic but some of the transitions didn’t quite “flow”. Still, as a whole, it was an awesome show, and when it’s “polished” will blow your mind!

  2. Anyone who thinks that Monkey Opera was anything other thancomplete trash is either lying to make them sound trendy or simply must not get out much. It was so bad I wanted to vomit blood after 15 minutes honestly i wanted to walk out as many others did (the lucky ones) but my wifes brother was involved with this production somehow and so i had to sit through all the awful music (screeching would describe it better), dreadfully flimsy plot. did the lead guy have a load of pubic hairs stuck in the back of his throat? were all the flem noises really necessary. there was a bit that said “500 years later…” And this was much like it felt to me. Albarn is clearly not talented enough if such a catastrophe of a show like this is the best he can create after 8 months of work. I liked the horse though.

  3. I saw Monkey Journey To The West at the 02 on 8th November. I can’t really review the show as I couldn’t see what was happening due to the awful seating layout. We booked tickets that were supposed to be in front of stage but it turned out that these were actually at an impossible viewing angle to the side in front of the orchestra pit. Many people were complaining and were relocated. The whole seating organisation was a shambles. Lots of people were still moving about 10 minutes in to the already delayed show. Even in our new seats it was impossible to see (the height between rows of seats is very small). The seats were also made of hard plastic and were very uncomfortable. We left at the interval. It’s the first time I have ever left any show before the end. Very disappointing. My advice if you really want to go is to take a periscope and a cushion.

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