Monkey…Journey to the West combines the beautiful multi-artform presentation of Theatre of Image and an old Chinese story steeped in tradition to make its mark in the last few days of Brisbane Festival.
Like many good stories, Monkey…Journey to the West is a tale that has been told and re-told many times before, with Australian audiences perhaps most familiar with the television show broadcast in the late 70s and early 80s of the same name. For those unfamiliar with Monkey, it could be compared to a Buddhist telling of The Wizard of Oz, with the charming yet naughty Monkey, pious monk Tripitaka, crass pig-man Pigsy and mellowed out Sandy on a quest to recover three holy scriptures and bring them back to the people of China. Those who are familiar with the story or the TV show it inspired are in for a treat, too, as favourite characters come to vigorous life before them on stage. This is a faithful telling of a traditional tale, expressed with beautiful visuals and lively action.
The Theatre of Images’ distinct multi-artform exploration and visual dynamism meets its perfect match in the fable-like story of Monkey. The narrative is pre-filled with symbolism ripe to be explored in the theatre, and in this rendition co-directors Kim Carpenter and John Bell have used the simple structure of the tale to allow ample time for the audience to uncover and decode these symbols and marvel at the visual feast on stage. Beyond the story and its meaning, in every moment of the show, there is something amazing to look at. Wonderful puppetry of many forms, from small, handheld 2D puppets to stage-filling, fabric billowing, rod puppets, plays a big role in the show and is masterfully executed on all levels. Stunning yet very simple sets and props are utilitarian as well as exquisitely designed. The costumes, too, are magnificent, drawing from a wide range of styles and inspirations, and adding the final touch of colour and sparkle to this living feast for the eyes.
The performers in Monkey…Journey to the West also excel, telling the fable with a great deal of heart (and really wonderful diction to boot). From the talented band of acrobatic chorus members to the wonderfully comical Darren Gilshenan and Justin Smith, who bring Pigsy and Sandy to life, the ensemble work together seamlessly. There is a believable, tangible bond which grows between Aljin Abella’s Monkey and Aileen Huynh’s Tripitaka, as the former learns to humble himself and truly be of service to his honourable master. It is this connection that transforms what could have been a simple, light hearted fairytale into a really moving piece of theatre.
Monkey…Journey to the West might well be the best kept secret of this year’s Brisbane Festival. While it stands alone as excellent theatre, with only four shows to play in its end-of-festival season, this production is certainly an excellent cap to great festival.
Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image presents
Monkey ... Journey to the West
by Donna Abela
Co-directed by John Bell and Kim Carpenter and written
Venue: Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre | 119 Lamington St, New Farm
Dates: 24 – 27 Sept, 2014
Tickets: $40 – $25
Part of the 2014 Brisbane Festival