Monkey…Journey to the West

Aljin Abella and Darren Gilshenan in Monkey…Journey to The West

Hands up those who remember the iconic incredibly popular TV series Monkey of the 1970’s ?

Theatre of Image under the brilliantly inspired direction of Kim Carpenter, in combination with legendary John Bell of Bell Shakespeare and in collaboration with Team 9Lives have fashioned a magnificent, enthralling, visually stunning production based on a story originally from the 1500’s that enchants.

For those unfamiliar with Monkey it could perhaps be compared to a Buddhist style ‘ The Wizard of OZ’ with our heroes on a mission to rescue three holy scriptures and return them to the people of China. The fable with its moral and visual symbolism lends itself splendidly to this multi layered production.

Visually , as always for Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image, it is stunning and in their trademark style . There are several types of puppets used of various sorts and sizes – giant floating rod puppets , shadow puppets and others. At times scene changes are effected by a ‘wipe’ of opening or closing a curtain for example, or a character taking a deep breath and jumping.

Projections are also used at various points (eg Monkey alone on his mountain) as are shadows and silhouettes. Costumes are exceptional and thrilling throughout, – for example the spider demons in Act 2 , bright pink and bubbly in disguise, terrifying black and sparkly when defeated . I also liked the wonderful headdresses of the birds Monkey used to rescue his companions. The underwater fish costumes were very bright, fun and exotically sultry too.

One mustn’t forget the opulent, dazzling Indian style elegant costume of the Great King in red and gold and his scantily clad army in boiled lobster orangey-red. And the huge, looming ghost demons in Act 1 were very scary especially for some of the younger children.

Kuan yin, goddess of mercy, ( Ivy Mak) is shown as pale, lunar like and with a headdress like trees rippling in the wind ( gusts of compassion? ).

Sets and props are flexible and utilitarian yet stunningly designed. Stylistically, music hall (eg the spider demons) is blended with the spectacular, thrilling martial arts (for example, the battle between our heroes and the fish like Great King and his minions). Peter Kennard’s score deftly interweaves jazz, showbiz and ‘traditional’ Asian sounding music and the songs are seamlessly incorporated.

Our darting , energetic, mischievous hero Monkey was splendidly played by Aljin Abella in red and black , with his iconic bandana and gold circlet crown. Will he ever really learn to humble himself ? Can he save his master Tripitaka ? You will need to see the show to find out!

Greedy, lusty, vulgar Pigsy is delightfully played by Darren Gilshenan , having a whale of a time ,in a rather ugly fat suit and with floppy ears. Sandy (Justin Smith ) is played as a sort of spaced out hippy sarcastic philosopher, a ‘cool’ cat/man , long haired and bearded, with a necklace of skulls .

Their master, the gentle, rather unworldly monk Tripitaka , driven on a sacred mission from Buddha himself, yet sometimes cranky with his annoying fellow travellers, was tremendously played by Aileen Huynh .

A splendid , visually enthralling production for all ages of an old Chinese story steeped in tradition that totally enchants .

Running time just over two hours including interval (approx)

Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image’s production of MONKEY … JOURNEY TO THE WEST is playing at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre until Saturday 11th October.