Theatre Review: The Frogs, Kiln Theatre

Theatre Review: The Frogs, Kiln Theatre

For their latest show physical troupe Spymonkey has gone right back to the roots of both comedy and theatre. The Frogs, by Aristophanes, is said to feature the first ever double act, which is convenient, as there are only two long-standing members of Spymonkey left, Aitor Basauri and Toby Park.

This production, written (or should that be adapted/re-written?) by Carl Grose, is all sorts of things. A knockabout comedy evoking musical hall and Morecambe and Wise. A play within a play that mischievously references theatrical greats such as Peter Brook and Harold Pinter. But perhaps most of all it is a tribute to two recently departed Spymonkey members. Petra Massey, who is now working in Las Vegas, and, more touchingly, Stephan Kreiss, who died in 2021.

In the original verison Xanthius and Dionysius were searching for Euripides – cue Basauri's employment of the oldest gag in the book – "you rippa dees trousers, you menda them..". Here Xanthius (Aitor Basauri) and Dionysius (Toby Park) are also venturing from Athens into the underworld in search of Stephan. But the quest happens mainly in the second half. Before then there is all sorts of comic business to deal with.

Jacoba Williams (pictured middle between Basauri left and Park right) joins Basauri and Park onstage as a wannabe third member of Spymonkey, desperate to do anything to join in with the madness. And it's Williams who gets the first big laugh, courtesy of a pair of fake male genitalia. This is just about the Platonic essence of a cheap laugh but somehow pulled off with style and a straight face.

From there this story quickly takes off. Basauri and Park are not young but they leap about with huge energy, throwing shapes here, tap dancing there. This production, nimbly directed by Joyce Henderson, rarely lets up. When the duo are not on their quest they are doing "scenes between the scenes", offering back story about what is going on. You don't need to know Greek theatre to enjoy it, but a bit of knowledge about the contemporary stage might help you to giggle at the in jokes. At one point, for no obvious reason, Basauri breaks into lines from A Streetcar Named Desire.

There is so much energy and so much being thrown into the mix things do feel a little messy at times, but that is all part of the inventive fun. The physical comedy is never less than brilliant, whether performed on a rotating part of the stage or frantically up and down the stairs at the back. Quirky costumes, including the inevitable frog outfits, add to the frivolity.

There are serious moments too - as well as the touching references to Kreiss there's a nod to the way modern theatre has been dominated by white male playwrights. And you can't have a Greek drama without some philosophy. Alongside the cock and ball gags there are musings on the meaning on life.

If you want your existentialism garnished with a generous helping of laughs look no further. The Frogs might not always feel like great art but it will make you jump with joy. 

Kiln Theatre until March 2. Tickets and information here.

Picture: Manuel Harlan

****four stars


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