"Imagine The Lord Of The Rings being done by the Chinese State Circus in the style of House Of Flying Daggers, and you are some way towards understanding the appeal of Monkey."I went to Monkey: Journey to the West at the Manchester International Festival, and haven't been able to come up with a better description than the quote above from Kitty Empire's review in "The Observer".
The story is familiar to those of my age-group who watched "Monkey !" on TV in the 1970s. A spoiled-brat monkey takes on heaven, loses (of course) and seeks redemption through good works (body-guarding a cross-dressing monk on a holy mission). It's not compulsory to follow the story however, which is just as well, because the sub-titles at the theatre were set to "Random Fortune Cookie" mode, and you never knew who was saying what, or why (unless you had a smattering of Mandarin).
Damon Albarn's music was amazing. Mrs Stan thought she caught some influence from Messiaen, some bits I thought were like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" and there were undoubtedly some classic Gorillaz-style basslines. It was hardly catchy, but it had the whiff of authenticity and was a perfect accompaniment to ninety minutes of extraordinary dance, gymnastics and martial arts on a breathtaking scale. Even Stanetta - who was sleep-deprived after a girlie sleep-over party - gave it fullmarks and stayed awake throughout, before coming home and sleeping 14 hours straight.
And cartoons of course - funny, wild animation from Jamie Hewlett, who worked with Albarn on Gorillaz. I'm ashamed to say I bought three miserly £7.50 back-seat stall seats for the family, and we could only see the bottom half of the screen.
But - £7.50 !! You pay double that for a cinema ticket in London West End. You pay five times that for a half-price on-the-day ticket for whatever Abba-Tribute musical is on in WC1. You pay ten-times that for Covent Garden opera, and that's where the true comparison is to be made. This, as Damon Albarn himself points out, was "proper opera".
Except it was full of families and ordinary people in casual clothes having a good time.
You don't get any of that at a Covent Garden opera.