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Soop Theatre Company presents


The Flying Monk


Directed by Vincent Adams


Lighting by Paul Wyse/Hazel Kenyon


Design by Francine Huin-Wah


Music by Denise Baugh


The Lion & Unicorn Theatre


15 June – 10 July 2010





A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Lion and Unicorn Theatre sits atop its namesakes pub in a sleepy back street of Kentish Town. In the dusty, black box theatre, Soop make an earnest attempt to engage our imagination in The Flying Monk, a play based on an eleventh century true story of an eccentric Benedictine monk named Eilmer who was obsessed with flight. While the Benedictine brotherhood maintain their vows of silence and prepare for Queen Emma's (Lucy Frederick) visit, Eilmer (Henry Oastler) dreams of soaring with the Jackdaws and creeps out to climb the  bell tower to feed the birds and learn how to fly. Meanwhile a Viking encampment slowly moves further inland towards Malmesbury Abbey.

The Flying Monk  is a humorous play that owes a lot to Terry Deary's Horrible Histories series, in the way that they send up history and glorify a comical version of events. Soop approaches the subject matter with infectious enthusiasm that allows the audience to engage with the ridiculousness of The Flying Monk. The actors double up in a variety of roles from monks and peasants to Vikings and ladies in waiting, which provides a good deal of amusement in itself.

We are introduced to the Benedictine monks first, who are sworn to a sacred vow of silence and are forced to use amusing hand gestures to communicate. At one point the Abbot  (Paul Henderson) gets his point across through charades and there is a mischievous glee to be indulged in the mocking of history's most strict and sacred brotherhood. The Peasants on the other hand are a bunch of  west country louts with Ma Leechbrook (Lucy Frederick) providing the most comical moments as a staggering heifer, she force feeds Florence (Nathan Chapman) a wondering dandy, some of “'er greein bred” sending him on a wild trip as he wraps himself in a blue cloth and rides of on a wooden stick which he thinks is a horse.

Soop's finest achievements however are the way they engage with Eilmer's story with a child like wonder, employing original and imaginative ways of creating the setting. When portraying a Viking Long ship, a sheet of blue cloth is drawn across the actors as one surges forward as the prow and  one stands behind, sword aloft, as the cloth rises and falls, they make the soft, susurration of the sea.
Mime is inventively used to portray doors opening, squeaking in time to create the hinges. The props are kept to a bare minimum, wooden swords doubling as crosses, while a jackdaw puppet apparently modelled on one in the margins of the Bayeux tapestry brings a playful element to the play.

A guitarist (Mark Newton)  sits on the stage also acting as a monk  and provides music and sound effects, this works particularly well when the monks twang the ropes in the labyrinth that Eilmer has zealously been portraying Daedalus, his hero in the legend of the Minotaur. Latin chanting was also parodied but was at times a little too repetitive.

Dressed all in brown cassocks that double as capes when acting as Vikings and skirts when playing ladies in waiting, the costumes are innovatively re-used and provide an original, quick way of achieving the desired role.

Adams has devised alongside the actors an enjoyable send up of historical events and The Flying Monk is frequently funny but could do with some editing, especially in the second half to keep the energy up. It appeals a lot to the child inside and would be a good play to bring children to as it combines elements of history with a cast of eccentric, amusing characters. Soop savours the madness of their characters and provides a comical reinterpretation of the monks of Malmesbury. Unlike the real Eilmer who flew 200 yards before crashing and breaking both his legs, The Flying Monk manages to walk away suffering only a twisted ankle.




The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
42-44 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town
London NW5 2ED

Tues-Sat 7.30 pm, Sun 3.30 pm

Tickets £12, £10 concessions

Box office 08444 771 000








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