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Review by Megan Thompson
Having lived in Hartlepool my whole life, and being brought up with the myth of the Hartlepool Monkey, I was so excited to see a play written about my hometown and one of its most well-known stories! Gyre and Gimble’s incredible production of the Hartlepool Monkey retells a very famous Hartlepool legend, whereby a French boat is shipwrecked off the coast of Hartlepool during the Napoleonic Wars. With its only survivor being a monkey, dressed in full French uniform and speaking in a language they don’t understand, the townsfolk of Hartlepool believe him to be a French spy and as result, put the monkey on trial and hang him.
Although everybody who knows about this legend is fully aware of the monkey’s fate, the play tells the story so cleverly that you still reach the end of the play hoping and praying, and almost expecting that somehow things will turn out differently.
This play was truly one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, as well as a visually stunning work of art. The design and movement of the monkey puppet was absolutely phenomenal, and you absolutely fall in love with him from the moment he scrambles onto the stage, swinging from the ropes and causing chaos! The puppetry of the monkey was so perfectly timed and executed that you no longer see simply a puppet or toy before, but a real life, beautiful, mischievous, rambunctious little animal. He steals the entire show and his vocal accompaniments of chomping, grunting and squeaking, provided by the incredibly talented Fred Davis were also beyond enchanting!
This particular adaptation consisted of only 7 cast members who told the story from both the English and the French point of view, meaning the majority of them repeatedly had to change their characters, accents and costumes throughout the production in order to perform both versions side by side. The cast all switched faultlessly between their small town English townsfolk and extravagant French counterparts, providing unrecognisably different voices and sporting different looks consistently.
Rebecca Collingwood shines in her role as the strong willed, independent, loveable French girl Clemence, who disguises herself as a boy and finds herself trapped on the French warship with the monkey. Her acting was so pure and inspiring, and her interactions with the monkey were incredibly touching to watch! The rest of the cast where also absolutely incredible, providing both comedic and dramatic performances that had you laughing one minute and on the edge of your seat the next!
Overall, I could not recommend this play enough! Suitable for the whole family, it provided so much fun, warmth, tension, drama and was nothing short of true magic! I truly have never seen a show like this before, with the cleverest of writing and the most faultless, heartfelt performances. I can definitely see this show having a future on the West End, and if that did happen, I can promise you I would 110% be seeing it again!
Photo by Dan Tsantilis