I did go along to Monkey: Journey to the West, having managed to score a single ticket from someone working in the building, and it was pretty good.
I’m bad at conveying enthusiasm, but it was definitely a spectacle – lots of Chinese circus skills were given a passing demonstration (psst, the plate-twirling was fake!), and there was dancing and acrobatics. It’s primarily billed as an opera, though. The singing was pleasant. All in Mandarin. Great creature costumes and some good use of sets.
Monkey’s rages, screeching and bullying of the other characters were amusing. The monk Tripitaka was played by a girl (I think to convey purity), which won me over once I figured it out. Characterisation was brief; I wanted more of the main critters, especially with the fantastically charismatic artwork displayed around the auditorium and in the programme — which latter I would have bought if it had been priced more reasonably than a tenner ($20!).
Oh yeah; Charly will be pleased to hear that his favourite, Guan Yin, makes an appearance.
The artwork was more than just posters; during a few scene changes near the beginning, animations were projected onto the lowered curtain. These showed Monkey moving from place to place in between scenes, which were otherwise quite disjointed. Interesting approach; I expected the animations to continue throughout, and was quite disappointed when they didn’t, but I’ve always been a sucker for animated pretties.
The artwork was clearly the same style as the Gorillaz art/videos, which wasn’t a surprise because this is another project by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. I couldn’t see the pop influence in the music, but I don’t listen to much Blur or opera or Eastern music… so to me it seemed pretty Chinese and, well, pretty.
Some technical problems prevented my enjoying it too much. The performance is in Mandarin and subtitled; as an inveterate subtitle-watcher I was interested to see how this would be done. Subtitles were projected in white light onto a black strip at the bottom of the stage. Though clear and visible if you were at the front or up high, they weren’t readable to us from about halfway back in the stalls; quite simply, people’s heads were in the way. They were also having trouble with the pacing of the titles; they’d lag behind the action then three lines might appear in quick succession. I can read med jävla fart, and I still missed some.
The other main problem was that the performance uses the full height of the stage, with dancers on wires sailing overhead and the odd battle taking place in the air. But from where we were sitting, the gallery section above us prevented us seeing the top of the stage. So there was a certain amount of neck-craning, ducking down to see the action and up to see the subtitles.
Rehearsal photos from The Times (they may still block foreign IPs, I dunno)
Lots of Monkey images and video and stuff from the BBC site (I emailed them some corrections for the Imagine gallery captions. :)