A whole heap of inspired, soul-satisfying silliness is offered at Oedipussy, the latest show by the celebrated comedy troupe Spymonkey. The group -  comprising Brits Toby Park and Petra Massey, German Stephan Kreiss and Spaniard Aitor Basauri - have teamed up with members of another venerable theatre company for this particular venture, collaborating with director/adaptor Emma Rice and writer Carl Grose of Kneehigh to create a rather spectacular, scattershot spoof of the paradigm text of Greek tragedy. With the phenomenal success of One Man, Two Guvnors and Noises Off demonstrating that audiences’ appetite for physical comedy remains unabated, there’s no better time to discover the delights of Spymonkey’s especially anarchic and irreverent brand.  

Tragic drama offers plenty of scope for parody and mockery, of course, and those opportunities are fully embraced here, in a show that gleefully riffs on Oedipus the King, supplementing Sophocles’s plot with the manic clowning, silly songs and slapstick for which Spymonkey are famed. The antecedents for this kind of endeavour are obvious, and the Marx brothers, Mel Brooks and Monty Python may all spring to mind at various points as you watch. But the production is infused with enough of its own spirit to create something very vivid and fresh.

Following a rather arch prologue - with the four actors taking to the stage to reflect upon a negative review of their last show Moby Dick - proceedings kick into gear with a sublime send-up of a James Bond credit sequence (“Oedipussy! No one wants to go where he has been!”), before heading into a first half of “explicable exposition expounded.” The basic story is covered with surprising (perhaps even excessive) thoroughness, with the family’s curse traced from King Laius’s violation of Chrysippus, and then progressing through the main events: Oedipus’s birth and abandonment; his killing of Laius and marriage to his mother Jocasta, who’s hilariously played by Massey as a very saucy minx here. 

Indeed, the multi-tasking quartet inhabit their roles with extraordinary energy, skill and style throughout, scampering dexterously up and around Michael Vale’s ingenious set, and aided by a superb array of costumes and props which help bring the production to heightened, comic-strip life. Some of the antics do occasionally grow tiresome, and at times Rice’s reverence for the performers - whom she’s called “the greatest physical and conceptual comedians working in the country” - leads to moments of indulgence. In particular, the episodes in which each of the actors step out of character to confess insecurities or (in Basauri’s case) try out a deliberately awful stand-up comedy routine are of variable quality, and don’t add much to the overall effect.

A little judicious cutting wouldn’t go amiss, therefore. But, for the most part, the lunacy is inspired, and even when a joke or idea does misfire, it’s not long before you’re laughing out loud again. I laughed the hardest at Massey’s (all-too-brief!) appearance as the trash-talking Sphinx; at Basauri’s brilliant doubling as the shepherds Lucky and Plucky; at Kreiss’s hysterical evocation of adolescent energies as the teenage Oedipus; and at a celebratory dance routine that zips through “Walk Like An Egyptian,” Morris and Riverdance - with a little air guitar thrown in for good measure. 

In the midst of the manic tomfoolery there’s the occasional oddly tender moment, too. Kreiss and Massey’s duet on the supremely kitsch  ballad “It’s Almost Like I’ve Known You All My Life” (“Now I’ve been within you, I just can’t live without you”) brings the first half to a surprisingly emotive end, while Park’s Tiresias delivers his message that “I am blind but you are the one who cannot see” via a gorgeous glam torch song that also touches the heart. And though catharsis isn’t achieved, precisely, the production’s final moments do represent a brave attempt to shift into another, more complex register. Such inventive elements - and indeed the wit and energy which are on display throughout - make this rude romp of a production very hard to resist.     

Oedipussy, at Lyric HammersmithAlex Ramon reviews Oedipussy, Spymonkey and Kneehigh's new collaboration, at the Lyric Hammersmith.4