Saturday, December 27, 2008
my simian adventure
after 8 months of following the progress and success of monkey: journey to the west and 2 disconnects in timing, i finally got to watch this "circus opera" which got extended until the first week of january in a specially constructed tent at the meridian gardens, right next to the o2 arena.
illustrations by jamie hewlett
chris was a good egg for going with me all the way out to the o2 and not familiar with the story sat for the couple hours to take in the mandarin speaking, operatic singers as well as the corde lisse aerialists, plate spinners, uni-cyclists, contortionists and hand balancing, pole climbing, gravity-defying acrobats.
monkey: journey to the west opera tells the story of the monkey king and his co-horts' pilgrimage to bring back the buddhist scrolls from india. in their quest for redemption and their hopes for immortality, the group must confront the white skeleton demon, the spider woman and princess iron fan.
the first couple of scenes of monkey had me a touch annoyed watching the brattish and arrogant monkey king cause havoc all around. it also started wearing thin hearing the monkey king snort out his annoying laugh, hiss at his opponents and scratch continually at his nether regions. it's only when he gets his comeuppance, that the opera starts to get better.
i found the animation projected on the scrim before each scene wonderfully imaginative, the costumes and make up eye-catching, the colourful set, especially the last scene with the 30 foot buddha mountain fantastical. the 20-ish piece orchestra playing both western and eastern instruments sat stage left in full view of the audience, which i thought lent itself to creating an intimate feeling.
what was weak about the production was that the surtitles were off to stage left and right, rather than projected above the stage and in keeping with the big-top circus feel, the long rows of metallic bleacher-style seats became uncomfortable after a time. but these small inconveniences did not detract from monkey.
the story even got a bit saucy. a modern and adult spin on the childhood fable, especially in the scene where the scantily clad spider women try their damndest to seduce the pilgrims tripitaka and pigsy on their silk banners hanging down from the rafters. the song they sing gives rise to a new euphemism for doing the sexy times with the phrase, "let's rock the dragon and flip the phoenix."
the event space for monkey includes a pre-show dinner and intermission lounge, red paper lanterns festooning the ceiling of the lobby, a foot massage parlour, a painted wall mural where you can take pictures standing beside monkey on their journey and a booth selling merchandise ranging from £10-80.
and a funny note: when i asked the usher if there was an intermission in the 2 hour show, his face drew a blank. when i asked again, thinking he didn't hear me the first time, he still looked stumped. erm, turns out the english refer to intermission as interval. now is it just me or does intermission sound more appropriate and better than interval?
after monkey ended, chris and i got to hang out for a backstage tour, walk amongst the very diminutive acrobats and performers with their wash board six pack stomachs as well as meet and have a drink with the show producer so that i could express our appreciation on a wonderfully stylish production.
i waited so long and never thought i would be able to catch monkey but i'll be a monkey's uncle that the opportunity as well as the timing did finally present itself.