Daring kung-fu, dazzling circus skills as Monkey’ comes to West

PUBLISHED: 13:57 24 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:49 05 October 2010

Monkey—Journey to the West, at the Greenwich O2, conjours up the magic of the Far East, with Damon Albarn’s lavish production fusig daring kung-fu sequences, dazzling circus skills and soaring instrumentation of this ancient Chinese legend

Monkey: Journey to the West

CONJURING up the magic of the Far East, Damon Albarn’s lavish production fuses daring kung-fu sequences, dazzling circus skills, soaring instrumentation, an ancient Chinese legend and Jamie Hewlett’s iconic Manga-style animation in a cross-cultural, operatic triumph, writes Victoria Huntley.

The former Blur frontman has rekindled his partnership with the Gorillaz animator and joined forces with Chinese actor and director Chen Shi-Zheng to recreate the 16th century fairytale and bring the cult 1970s Japanese TV series to a new generation of Monkey lovers, in Monkey — Journey to the West, at the Greenwich O2.

Monkey’ is at the former Millennium Dome until Friday week (Dec-5), after its successful run in Manchester, Paris and Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House.

Ethereal Mandarin voices tell the story of the cocksure monkey king, whose quest for immortality leads to disapproval and discipline by Buddha, and his holy quest to protect young monk Tripitaka on his journey to fetch ancient scriptures.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style high-wire fight scenes combined with elaborate kung-fu sequences, Hewlett’s brilliant imagery and some pretty awe-inspiring circus tricks, including a pyramid of plate-spinners, rollerblading sword fights, contorted spider women suspending themselves from sheets of silk from the ceiling and vertiginous unicycle riders.

Albarn’s score is played by an orchestra combining Western and traditional Chinese instruments and encapsulates the other-worldliness of the mystical tale.

But last Wednesday’s premiere, understandably, was not without its technical hitches, although some were more noticeable than others.

The sudden and catastrophic failure of the subtitles system left audience members relying on their understanding of Mandarin to decipher the dialogue, but only for five minutes until it was fixed again.

An acrobat left dangling from wires from the ceiling had a slightly panicked expression on his face as he attempted to sway serenely into the wings without the audience noticing the technical fault which left him suspended forlornly after the rest of his kung-fu chums had safely made it off stage.

Despite the odd hic-up, the show was utterly enthralling, every bit as weird and wonderful as the antique TV series and a testament to Albarn’s musical flexibility.

Monkey – Journey to the West, at the O2, Peninsular Square, North Greenwich, until December 5 (Tube North Greenwich). Tickets: £23-£60.

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