A review of Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey Do
A comedy that will leave you in tears; whether of laughter or harrowing emotion.
“A brave, funny, and frankly magnificent piece of work.”
★★★★★ Fest Mag
“Comedy on a treadmill turns conceptual, dark and harrowing”
“It’s strong stuff, and courageous: a lurid, unsparing portrait of a consciousness in meltdown”
Time is running out to see Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey Do, an hour long multimedia solo show running until 4th February 2017. This collage of sounds, sights and comic quips, delivered with perfect timing as Gadd runs continually on a small running machine, is a follow up to his acclaimed show from last year, Waiting for Gaddot.
Gadd uses simple technologies, such as voice overs, a projector screen, lip-synching, depictions of tweets and Whatsapp messages, as well as a medley of popular songs, to create a piece that is both funny and emotive. There is so much more to this performance than just a compilation of great comic moments. Before seeing the performance, if you had told me that watching two chins with faces drawn on them would pull at my heart stings, and have me hanging on every word, I probably would have laughed. But Gadd’s use of childlike communication only acts to make his work feel more honest, more real.
The show begins with a short video. Gadd wakes up to find a giant gorilla in front of him. The ape attacks. A chase ensues. Gadd appears on stage, striding over to his running machine, as if the gorilla is still in pursuit. Gadd explains that he is preparing for the annual Man’s Man competition, where the most masculine compete for the title of the Manliest Man. Seeping with sweat within the first 10 minutes, and clothed in a pair of pink running shorts, a pink armband, pink headphones, and a thin white vest, Gadd appears an unlikely contender.
The show skips forward to Gadd’s preparation for the next Man’s Man competition. We share his his struggles interacting with others, his anxiety about how he looks, and witness the war between his “rational brain” and his primordial inner monkey – the gorilla. To be the manliest man, Gadd makes it clear that he needs to repress his primeval emotions, but the gorilla also unleashes a myriad of anxiety-inducing insults against him.
Gadd slowly builds a picture of his life using short films, images, and voice-overs. The audience get to know him and his life. We like him. But, through the torrent of witty comments and corny jibes, we begin to catch on to some darker undertones. The previously relaxed and comfortable atmosphere is replaced by a sense of unease, discomfort, and solemnity. We learn of Gadd’s experience of sexual abuse 4 years ago. In retrospect our earliest laughter feels hollow.
Gadd shows incredible bravery as he bares his soul unsparingly. Yet this is more than theatre as catharsis. It’s a show about self-acceptance and the importance of dealing with whatever issues, anxieties, or monkey voices that are clanging inside your head. In a recent Guardian (of course) interview, Gadd described the impact of the show on his own self-acceptance: “I believed that life was a stack of boxes and that I needed to fit into one of them. Whereas, fuck it, now I’m between boxes. It just doesn’t matter”.
At the end of the show, Gadd directly addresses the audience. This is no longer performance but conversation. He encourages anyone experiencing suffering in their lives, whether it be depression, the after-effects of a traumatic experience, or anything else related to their inner monkey, to express themselves; to resist the temptation to repress. “If you act, act! If you dance, dance! If you write, write! If you paint, paint! If you don’t do any of these things act, dance, write and paint!”
A powerful show not to be missed!