by Laura Kressly
There’s a world of difference between London and the impoverished estates in Britain’s small towns. Mickey grew up on one in Hartlepool, a place famous for its historic execution of a monkey mistaken for a Frenchman, the more recent fraud case committed by John ‘Canoe Man’ Darwin, and not much else. Some of the town’s citizens maintain its xenophobic, monkey-slaughtering legacy in the form of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant protests, even though they’ve never met anyone off the estate. Micky escaped these attitudes through a successful career as a children’s entertainer – or so he thought.
We meet Micky as an impoverished child who finds solace and community in am dram and puppet making, a pursuit that eventually leads him to drama school in London. Before he escapes Hartlepool however, he makes friends with a load of racists down the pub who spend their weekends protesting against British diversity. With his faithful sidekick Colin – a monkey puppet – in tow, he works hard, is incredibly lucky on stage and screen, and casts aside the bigotry of his friends up north who see Tommy Robinson as the leader the country needs. This is a good rags to riches story that also touches on the precarity of fame and absurdity of the entertainment industry.
Colin cleverly functions both as confidante and Micky’s alter-ego. He’s capably puppeteered by Antonia Draper, who wholeheartedly embraces Colin’s coke habit and foul mouth. Jamie Eastlake is an anxious and sometimes too-quiet Mickey, but maintains his enthusiastic, nice-guy demeanour despite his fame.
The script is dense with plot points and covers a substantial period of time, so it could do with some trimming and focusing in order to allow individual moments more space to breathe. But there’s a lot of great stuff in going on, particularly about social class and the arts, that deserves to be heard.
Monkeys Blood runs through 10 February.
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