★★ ½

Royal and Derngate Theatre

THE FROGS at the Royal and Derngate Theatre


“There’s some good and not-so-good slapstick, physical theatre and an all-round quirkiness.”

Spymonkey set out to update Aristophanes’ three-thousand-year-old play – historically, the first staged comedy and use of a comedic double act – and make it relevant to today. They have poignant reasons to do so and these are reflected in a sub-plot that runs parallel to the original. The new version is written by Karl Grose and Spymonkey “with massive apologies to Aristophanes” and is directed by Joyce Henderson.

The stage is set with an array of boxes and crates and paraphernalia. A revolve is set off-centre which is used primarily for comedic effect. A circular mirror is suspended from above, upon which an impressive moon image is occasionally projected (Lucy Bradridge, set & costume designer).

Spymonkey regulars Toby Park and Aitor Basauri are semi-god Dionysus (sporting a fine pair of Cothornos platform sandals – a nice touch) and servant Xanthias who undergo a trip to the Underworld to recover the poet Euripides. To help them on their way, they receive advice from hero Heracles (Jacoba Williams in a fetching muscled body suit with male accoutrements). So far so good, but then our heroes fall into “a scene between the scenes” and find themselves squeezed into a cupboard – the Spymonkey office – and from now on as they continue their interminable journey they slip in and out of their Greek characters and into a character-version of themselves. Jacoba takes on a variety of tentacled, flippered and multi-headed creatures for the heroes to overcome whilst doubling in the here-and-now as an American theatre impresario interested in producing the new show. The whole thing is very meta. But it’s also rather a mess.

Of course, there are laughs a plenty. Aitor is an exceptional clown and, as the Spymonkey dynamic duo establish themselves, he proves himself an able Lou Costello to Toby’s Bud Abbott. But there is too much: the running gag of Aitor’s ass (hee-haw), knowing winks to the audience, asides, adlibs. There’s some good and not-so-good slapstick, physical theatre and an all-round quirkiness. Jacoba tells us that the whole thing is as mad as a box of… well, you know… just as the plot dissolves into a psychedelic acid trip.

Spymonkey themselves mock the length and tedium of Aristophanes’ original monologues and character-Aitor tells us several times that he doesn’t like the ending of the play because it isn’t funny. It’s not a good omen for the second half.

Worthy of mention is the community chorus – the highlight of the show – who techno-tap-dance across the stage in fluorescent yellow cagoules as the frog chorus (Simone Murphy, choreographer). It’s a shame that this happens only the once but then Aristophanes set the precedent for that. Ribbit.

THE FROGS at the Royal and Derngate Theatre

Reviewed on 24th January 2024

by Phillip Money

Photography by Manuel Harlan


Previously reviewed at this venue:

2:22 A GHOST STORY | ★★★ | January 2024
THE MIRROR CRACK’D | ★★★ | October 2022
THE TWO POPES | ★★★★ | October 2022
PLAYTIME | ★★★★ | September 2022
THE WELLSPRING | ★★★ | March 2022
BLUE / ORANGE | ★★★★ | November 2021



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