Legend has it that a French ship was wrecked off the Hartlepool coast during the Napoleonic wars.
Its two survivors were a cabin girl and the ship’s mascot – a monkey dressed in a uniform. So frightened of French invasion were the locals and so ignorant of what a Frenchman looked like, they tried the monkey as a spy and hanged him. As the opening of the show demonstrates, that is not a spoiler.
Innovative theatre company Gyre & Gimble has forged a reputation for brilliant puppetry, as anyone who saw Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s Running Wild last year will know. Here, with Carl Grose’s script, they have created a funny and emotionally charged telling of the tale, with a young audience in mind.
A strong ensemble of seven have great fun with multiple characterisations and lusty song while cleverly manipulating a set made from mobile objects, pulleys and wires, itself at times like a giant puppet.
For all the horrible history knockabout of the show, it has a dark heart. It is about bigotry and a fear of what cannot be easily understood. The clear star of the show is the hapless monkey, an expressively articulate puppet made terrifying, terrified and touching by a collaboration of actors led by Fred Davis who also gives him his eloquent ‘voice’.