Tag Archives: Carl Grose


★★ 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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Robin Hood

Robin Hood: The Legend. Re-Written


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

ROBIN HOOD: THE LEGEND. RE-WRITTEN at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre


Robin Hood

“The performances are uniformly strong, joyful, silly and skilful”


Everyone has their own favourite image of Robin Hood, whether it be Kevin Costner, Jason Connery, Russell Crowe (really?); or the Disney rendition. Or a camp pantomime outlaw in green tights. Carl Grose has taken three of those archetypes and has them gate-crash his alternative – and quite eccentric – version of the legend. The device is an embodiment of the quirky humour that, unlike the sleight of hand archery skills on display, often misses its target.

Part of the problem is that nobody, including Grose, seems to know where the target is. You can’t see the wood for the trees in this overgrown Sherwood Forest where tangled brambles of offbeat ideas lie in wait like thorny catch weed. You don’t need to wade too far in to get lost. Or frustrated enough to want to turn back. Tax collectors in hi vis jackets delight at relieving commoners of their bow fingers. Fingers which, no less, end up in a casket the sheriff keeps hidden away, occasionally lifting the lid to allow the dismembered digits to prophesise to him in squeaky voices. We are in a pretty slaughterous world where scarlet blood puddles and muddles the greenery. Where fact, fiction, myth and legend collide at the whim of an insurgent history teacher on acid.

The opening moments are magical, the scene set by the Balladeer (Nandi Bhebhe; velvet voiced and spellbinding). The landscape is borrowed from Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ as the mystical atmosphere swiftly morphs into a kind of ‘state of the nation’ play. “Who owns England?”, the downtrodden ask. Sheriff Baldwyn (a commanding performance from Alex Mugnaioni) keeps the King in a permanent state of befuddlement by spiking his tea in order to have free reign to be as dastardly as can be. Paul Hunter’s portrayal of the king is a masterclass in comic buffoonery, while still conveying that this hapless monarch knows much more than he is letting on.

Chiara Stephenson’s split-level set crudely separates the two classes, but there is plenty of social mobility. Not least the sheriff’s grog-guzzling wife, Marian (Ellen Robertson – in fine, playful form). We are never quite sure of her motives, but her disdain of, and possibly guilt over, her privilege drives her to extremes of disguise, the likes of which would be far too big a spoiler to reveal here. An ensemble troupe of Merry Men (excuse the Olde Worlde gender reference) create the required mayhem to subvert the established order. Apparently, it all started with a plan to build a new road, putting much of the forest at risk. A rather throwaway shuffle onto the environmentalist bandwagon, but I guess Grose felt the need.

The performances are uniformly strong, joyful, silly and skilful. It must have been a task, but director Melly Still guides the company through the mayhem with a steady hand. For the most part. At interval, the lawns are littered with bemused expressions heading for solace at the bar. It is short lived. The second act gets jaw-droppingly bizarre as we become lost in a sea of abdications, beheadings and resurrections. In the spirit of true farce, some ends are tied up, but no matter how hard we try the disjointed fragments of this production never really meet in our minds. The theatrical trickery has to be admired (Ira Mandela Siobhan is compelling as the conjuring but doomed villain, Gisburne) but the overall journey is unnavigated. Lost in the forest, left to make it up as it goes along.

As the sun sets and a crescent moon hangs above Regent’s Park, we file out into the night wondering if what we have just seen really did come from the same writer who penned “Dead Dog in a Suitcase” and “The Grinning Man”. The tagline in the PR blurb pronounces “Think you know the story of Robin Hood? Think again!”. It promises revelation, but the question remains the same as we leave the theatre.


Reviewed on 23rd June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Once On This Island | ★★★★ | May 2023
Legally Blonde | ★★★ | May 2022
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★½ | June 2021


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