Last night I saw Monkey: Journey to the West. Wiki can probably do the plot more justice than I can, but here’s the gist:
Monkey is born from a stone egg. He becomes sad at the thought of dying and so goes off in search of the answer to immortality. His selfish ways get him in trouble and he is imprisoned for 500 years. He is released on the condition he will protect Tripitaka on his quest to find ancient scrolls (hence the journey bit), and they are joined by Pigsy and Sandy, plus the poor soul who had to be dressed as a horse for the duration. I’m assuming he was the untalented one? And there are adventures in undersea worlds and volcanoes, and battles with spider women and skeleton demons.
Pigsy, Tripitaka and Sandy
I had no real idea what to expect when going into this. I’d looked at the website briefly and read some of the reviews which raved about it. I am not as blown away, must be said. It is visually stunning. I can’t really put into words how much time and effort must have gone into making this production. There are something like 50+ cast members, all in amazing makeup and costumes. The set pieces are beautiful, there are video sections based on the cartoon, even the lighting is fantastic. The performers are ridiculously talented, with contortionists, dancers, martial arts, you name it they can do it, and there was hardly a misstep throughout the whole show, which is some feat considering what goes on.
Monkey fights Pigsy. Is cocky while doing so
So why can’t I rave about it? Well, there is so much going on, it’s difficult to take it all in. Not only do you have all of the above, but also plate spinning, unicyclists and rollerbladers. Every time you think you’ve seen everything, something else comes along. Simplicity is not the word. Also, it is all done in Chinese. It’s lovely, to begin with, and I can see why they did it, and it adds to authenticity. But. Chinese means subtitles. And so you’ve got all these beautiful set pieces and actors and acrobats going on, but you can’t watch it all, because you have to keep an eye on the subtitles to follow it (subtitles which, on occasion, went too fast or disappeared altogether). I gave up reading it during the songs, and just listened, because the words added nothing to the story, or the feel of the show, and were often just ‘Beautiful hill tops, oh how you glow, I am on a long journey, we must do away with regret.’ Totally made that up, but you get the idea.
Another problem I had, a big one too for me, I just did not like Monkey. At all. He was supposed to be cheeky (ha, cheeky monkey) and I guess fun, but I just found him annoying. Really annoying. I thought in the beginning that he would change halfway through, you know, the usual epiphany sort of thing. But no. He’s just the same at the end as he was at the beginning. He’s selfish and arrogant and instead of getting taken down a peg or two, he’s basically rewarded with gifts. I would have liked him to have a better punishment than the imprisonment. He never seemed to learn anything from his actions. Hmm. Possibly I have missed something.
So what did I like? As I said, amazing production and performances. I loved the sea palace and the floating star fish (hee). The volcano scene was wonderful, as was the spider woman. This had three women hanging from the ceiling by cloth, almost as if they were in a cocoon, and doing sort of trapeze acts. I am sure it has a name and I just don’t know it, but it was beautiful. The second half was definitely better than the first, and the ending dazzled with about fifteen women doing contortions and acrobatics, whilst spinning plates! I guess just spinning plates wasn’t exciting enough?
Plate spinning spectacular
In the end, the main problem I had was that, though it was visually stunning, it still lacked something. I was never completely taken in by it, very firmly in the audience, never lost in the moment. It lacked heart.
Still, if you do decide to go and see it, I strongly suggest getting seats in the middle, as much as you can. Had we been in our original seats we would have missed out on a lot, and even though we were moved in a little, there was still much we couldn’t see.