Simple, inventive and immediately engaging; Greg Freeman’s Montagu perfectly balances comedy and philosophical discussion.
We’re in a time of great uncertainty and vulnerability. In 5 days time, many of us will be casting our votes in a political election of extremely high stakes. The course of this country’s future will be shaped dramatically by what is decided but, in any case, there’ll be a large percentage of the population who is unhappy with the result. Such is the tragedy of this world, that an all-encompassing vision of how our society should be run is a near impossible thing to achieve. Out of Left Field’s production of Montagu has come along at the perfect time. It is a remedy for artists struggling to manage with the existential weight of the world. Sure to lift the spirits of anyone out there thinking: “why does the world have to be so complicated and dangerous?”
Montagu, a passive donkey who spends most of his days walking in circles and looking up at the clouds, does not involve himself in the affairs of the rest of his herd. He has never taken part in any election. But when Butch takes the reigns as leader of the herd – the second donkey to do so in three days after two political assassinations – and forces Montagu from his favourite spot under a tree, Montagu becomes inadvertently mixed up in an anarchic power struggle until he himself is pressured into becoming leader of the herd. As the play progresses, we start to see that Montagu’s gentle and unassuming demeanour can be incredibly persuasive. He turns out to be a very good leader, knowing exactly how to play the whims and weaknesses of other donkeys.
The acting is an absolute joy to watch. Ken McClymont, who directed the similarly brilliant and thought-provoking Poetry of Exile, has guided the cast to a superb level of professionalism and clarity. Set on stage during the preset is four pairs of socks (with hooves attached to the ends), four sets of donkey ears and some black and white face paint – all of which the actors simply put over their rehearsal clothing. For the most part, and rather than indulging in full-blown donkey impersonations, the actors play human characters. They hold their hands like one would if they were impersonating a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and every now and again make a donkey-like gesture or sound. Ken McClymont’s simple approach is an excellent way of encouraging the audience to use their own imaginations in creating the world of the donkeys. This also allowed the actors to focus on the fast-paced and complex dialog of Montagu‘s script.
Montagu (Christien Anholt) is an adorable creation. Even through his character’s more morally suspect moments, you’re on his side and he is your avatar. Anholt’s beautifully eloquent speech works with the dialog perfectly. Every feeling and emotion is so clearly understood in his expression, every anxiety witnessed in his shaking body and hunched posture. Anholt has thrown all his passion and intellect into creating such a unique, quirky and relatable character – and it’s a performance not to be missed.
Jerome Ngonadi as the sly Old Smokey (Jerome also played Butch, Old Smokey’s brother) had me in stitches. The voice that Ngonadi affects for Smokey, which reminded me a little of Rory Breaker (from Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) made everything he said comedy gold. One scene in particular where Old Smokey is complimenting Montagu on his political success – trying to slither his way into his new leader’s inner circle – was so funny that I was brought to tears. The manipulative Old Smokey, with his untrustworthy smile and villainous cadence, is the perfect antithesis to the anxious and physically harmless Montagu.
Evelyn Craven and Georgia Robson, as Cupcake and Shadow respectively, were like something out of Alice in Wonderland. It was these two characters who coerced Montagu into being donkey leader in the first place. But only as a place holder; they are surprised when we does so well at the job. Their riddlesome attempts to manipulate Montagu are repelled by his foresight and intelligence. Evelyn Craven (who also performed in Poetry of Exile) brought a great and boundless energy to the part of the “sickly sweet” Cupcake, playing both her sweet side and violent side with great dedication, but I felt at times it was too much. She could afford in some moments to be a bit more subtle. Georgia Robson had great poise and immaculate delivery, but her performance suffered from the opposite problem to Craven. At times, she didn’t bring enough energy and there were moments whers she didn’t seem to be completely engaging with the story.
Greg Freeman’s script is sure to be a classic in the future. It says so much about the fundamental principals of our world and the way a society operates, while also being so exceptionally witty. Throughout, you’re posed with several questions and home truths about life. But only through the playful allegorical medium of a donkey herd can you see their true absurdity. Make sure to grab a ticket as soon as you can for this 80 minute epic. If Out of Left Field’s previous productions are anything to go by, Montagu will be sold out very soon.