Monkey says, "It's time to play," and Monkey does! The Young Vic once again stretches its multi-cultural theatrical envelope to draw on classical Chinese legend to produce a show of considerable delight, panache and athleticism.
The stories chronicled here are perhaps best known from the cult 1970s Japanese television show; but, in fact, the origins of the culturally iconic character of a magic Monkey King can be traced as far back as the fifth century AD. The character also appears in the Indian epic Ramayana (coincidentally also briefly seen at the National this year in a co-production with Birmingham Rep), and many plays from late medieval China's Yuan dynasty. Colin Teevan, the adapter/writer of the new Young Vic version, points out in a programme note that the most complete, surviving account of Monkey's exploits was first published in 1592 that, in its four-volume English translation, ran to some 1,900 pages.
The tales are condensed here to a brisk and bracing two-hour theatrical adventure. But - while the plot charts Monkey's journey with Pigsy and water spirit Sandy as they accompany the monk Tripitaka on a journey to find the Sacred Scriptures and enlightenment - the result is not always enlightening.
For those of us unfamiliar with the legend (which must be most of the audience), the precise plotting is sometimes hard to follow. Thankfully, most of the time, the stage is so busy and the performers so engaging, it doesn't matter.
Mick Gordon's production - staged on two intersecting Oriental runways, not to mention skyways, designed by Dick Bird - is a constantly thrilling delight. With the cast schooled in Wu Shu (embracing several forms of martial arts including Kung Fu and T'ai Chi), there is stage fighting here like you've never seen before. The players are terrific; and so is the show. It's yet another Young Vic seasonal treat.
- Mark Shenton