The Complete Deaths (Brighton Theatre Royal and touring)

Tim Crouch directs Spymonkey as they reenact every single one of the 75 deaths in Shakespeare’s works

The Complete Deaths
The Complete Deaths
© Victor Frankowski

What's the collective noun for deaths? A decay of deaths? A worm's feast? The clowning collective Spymonkey suggest an alternative: a rictus smile of deaths.

There are 75 in total in The Complete Deaths – a show that does just what it says on the tin. Over two hours, they (death) rattle through every shuffling off in Shakespeare, from the iconic to the arbitrary, the murders and the mishaps. It's as fitting a memorial to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's finale as any – one that will, as Toby Park's artsy ideas man keeps insisting, confront a lazy, bourgeois crowd with their own mortality.

Only Spymonkey being Spymonkey, it doesn't quite work out like that. Petra Massey's near-nude Cleopatra swings her asps around like nipple tassles. Aitor Basauri's Romeo collapses on his own (baby pink) codpiece. Stephan Kreiss insists on playing two deaths at once. Anything completist has its baggy bits – The Wars of the Roses go at a gallop – but, as the bodies pile up, Spymonkey rack up a pretty decent hit-rate.

Beneath the gag-fest, there are subtler seams, as you might expect of guest director Tim Crouch. This is a show in which dreams die and companies come to an end – all wrapped up in a show that marks out its own ephemerality.

Death is, of course, unactable. Chests heave. Corpses corpse. Why, then, do we see so many onstage? One in 50 Shakespeareans meet their maker in front of an audience. Not for nothing does the Bard sprout a Hitler tache at one point. No theatre company is safe from a spoofing: saliva shoot-outs between old-school Shakespeareans, abstract German paint jobs or hopping, hoofing, Gregorian chanting Euro-physical sorts. Eagle-eyed theatregoers will find no shortage of in-jokey asides.

Might theatre be a way of rehearsing for death? Or maybe, just a way of killing time beforehand? As the troupe pull in different directions, torn between entertainment and art, we get a glimpse of death-free theatre: a bubbly, bright-coloured kids' show. The point extends into life. Without death, a toy world.

Certainly, cramming these deaths into a single catalogue proves instructive. Last words and existential epiphanies slam into base, bodily functions. There are bare bums and drool bubbles, and almost every kind of cavity. The whole thing is laced with lust, as if sex might somehow stave off the inevitable: all those 'petit morts' distractions from the big D.

It's tied together by a surprising candidate: the squashed fly of Titus Andronicus, petit-est mort of them all. Here, it's a welcome reminder of reality. Seen onscreen, upended, legs in the air, it struggles against death, kicking at life, before succumbing to stillness. It's no comedy, death, but that's no reason not to laugh in the face of it. The Complete Deaths is a case of vigour mortis.

You can read our interview with writer and director Tim Crouch here.

The Complete Deaths tours until October 16th. For full details, click here.