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Monkeys Blood review at Vaults, London – ‘fun, but unsubtle’

Jamie Eastlake in Monkeys Blood at the Vaults, London

Here’s a show for fans of symbolism involving apes. In Jamie Eastlake and John Hickman’s new play, Eastlake plays Micky, a successful puppeteer from the North East with a monkey on his back in more ways than one.

First of all there’s his signature doll, a fluffy monkey called George, who spends most of the show clambering all over the place, courtesy of Antonia Draper’s manipulations. Then there’s his shameful past that threatens his skyrocketing career: as a teenager in Hartlepool, a town that once hanged a monkey as a French spy, Micky was involved in an EDL-style racist protest group.

Micky’s journey from regional racist to D-list celebrity puppeteer is told as one long, lurid story, stretching from his childhood love of kids’ TV show Rainbow, to his time in the local am-dram society, to his anti-Muslim marches, to his days at drama school in London.

In truth, this is an awkwardly structured, strangely weighted tale, with little that’s fresh about it. All the ethical meat is squished into the last 10 minutes, and Eastlake and Hickman’s points about racial tension resulting from systemic inequality are valid, but delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

It’s still an enjoyable hour, though, thanks to Eastlake and Draper’s effervescent performances – Draper multi-roles entertainingly as the puppet monkey George and several other caricatures, while Eastlake bounds around the stage, bubbly and raw throughout. It’s funny, too – particularly when Draper has George graphically recreate a sex scene using a teddy bear.

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An entertaining story about Britain’s systemic inequality, told by one man and his puppet monkey