Review: The Trial of Le Singe
Image: The Heretical Historians
Based on the ridiculous true story of The Hartlepool Monkey: A shipwrecked monkey who washed ashore in North-East England during The Napoleonic Wars, who was mistaken by the local population for a French spy and put on trial for treason.
A sadly relevant tale of misinformation, nationalism and scapegoating, which serves as a warning parable for the consequences of unchecked fear-mongering in the age of post-Brexit Britain and Trump's America.
Heavily influenced by a fusion of punk culture and music hall styles, The Trial of Le Singe is an anarchic, pitch-black farce for an angry disenfranchised generation.
Promising low-budget chaos, dramatic set pieces (including a spectacular ship-wreck) and the sharpest satire this side of a 30's Berlin Cabaret.
Critically-acclaimed mischief makers and fringe veterans, The Heretical Historians, bring their absurd new epic to The Camden Fringe.
On the story's relevance Writer and Director, Matthew Jameson comments:
"In these absurd times, it's galling to find stories that can tackle the enormity of the issues that face our nation and society.
That is why having such a ridiculous story, particularly a true one, allows us to succinctly and accessibly explore themes such as xenophobia and regional deprivation in a way that is memorable and humorous to our audience."
Short-listed for the 2017 Charlie Hartill Award (The Pleasance).
On the face of it at least, the tale on which this show is based is overflowing with extraordinary potential - there's ample room for comedy, poignancy, social comment and plenty to say about England's history too.
The story reveals the consequences of a storm off the north-east coast of England in 1815 (a time when England was at war with France) when a French ship got wrecked.
As the story goes, the ship's mascot monkey, dressed in French military uniform, was the only survivor and got washed ashore in Hartlepool to be discovered by the locals who took it to be a French spy (not recognising it as a monkey) arrested it and then tried it in court for espionage.
The trial of 'The Hartlepool Monkey' is a great story with the all essential ingredients to provide a rare treat for both actors and audiences alike - the only question is how to stage it to maximum effect.
Playing as part of this year's Camden Fringe, 'The Trial of Le Singe' is The Heretical Historians' version of events which relies, quite appropriately, on farce as the main vehicle to recount the absurd proceedings in the (then) unsophisticated and remote locale.
Writer Matthew Jameson retells the story through a pub landlord, his daughter, a beer-swilling pub customer, an incomprehensible local called 'Atless 'Arry, a London toff and, of course, the much-maligned monkey who languishes for most of the duration cooped up in a cage.
Since the story is already farcical in nature, the playing and characterisations could, and in my view should, have been much more restrained - a question of letting the story do the heavy lifting in terms of farce, leaving the playing to be more subdued, even ordinary, and thus more satyrical and comedic.
As it is, the production feels like self-indulgence taken almost to the verge of total excess where the characters are ludicrously unbelievable and the events we witness are, for the most part, unhumorously contrived and lame.
In spite of the fact that the cast seem to be having enormous fun with the show, swathes of it are devoid of humour, and some of it deteriorates into incomprehensible prattle.
Sometimes, the cast slip out of character to comment on present-day events and/ or discuss the script, or address the audience - that merely adds to the overall sense of confusion that set in for me fairly early on.
There is a well-delivered scene where we hear from Lloyd McDonagh's Le Singe, who reveals his inner thoughts and makes a passionate plea for his life.
But that was too little, too late, being completely overshadowed by all that had gone before.
In spite of the enthusiastic good intentions of the company, piling slapstick buffoonery on top of an absurdly farcical story proves merely wearisomely ill-conceived and comedically unsatisfying.
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ActDrop listing for The Water Rats Theatre Bar
Our show listing for The Trial of Le Singe
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