1997 Aitor, Petra and Toby meet while working with the Swiss action-theatre group Karl's Kühne Gassenschau in Zurich. With Paul Weilenmann (their former boss at KKG) the quartet conceive Spymonkey atop a French mountain. In December they work for a week with inspirational comedy writer/director Cal McCrystal at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
1998 'Stiff' is created with Cal and designer Lucy Bradridge over 6 weeks at the tiny Actors' Creative Training Studio in Brighton, and premieres at the Komedia Theatre on December 14th. It briefly tours England and Switzerland before the company disperses to other projects in 1999.
2000 In April Stephan Kreiss replaces Paul as the fourth member of Spymonkey. A reworked version of 'Stiff' tours Switzerland, Austria and the UK. One of the major hits that year of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it wins wide critical acclaim and a Total Theatre Award, and launches them onto the international festival and touring circuit.
2001 'Stiff' performs at: the Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, as part of the London International Mime Festival; Riverside Studios London; the US Comedy Festival Aspen and Houston Texas (winner of the Houston Press Award, best touring show 2001); the British Council Showcase Edinburgh; tours to Hungary, Finland, Spain, Mexico, France, Ireland and Syria.'Cooped', created with the same creative team as 'Stiff', opens with a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe and tours UK.
2002 'Cooped' at the Purcell Room, in the London Mime Festival, at BAC London and tours Hungary and Finland. 'Stiff' tours to Canada, Taiwan, Romania, Czech Republic, Greece, France; Double Bill of 'Stiff' and 'Cooped' at the Paramount Comedy Festival, Brighton. Cirque du Soleil make their invitation to Cal and Spymonkey to create the comedy material for the adult cabaret they are producing in Las Vegas.
2003 Double Bill at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, in the London Mime Festival; tour of Switzerland. Rehearsals for 'Zumanity - Another side of Cirque du Soleil' in Montreal and Las Vegas; Shooting of Cirque Images' 'Solstrom' series for Bravo Cable Channel; 'Zumanity' opens in its own purpose-built theatre at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, in August.
2004 'Zumanity' continues its run in Las Vegas. Cirque Images 'Solstrom' airs in Canada, USA and Australia.
2005 The feature-length documentary 'Lovesick', about the creation of 'Zumanity', by Emmy-Award-winner Lewis Cohen, is aired on Bravo Cable Channel in April. Spymonkey's last 'Zumanity' performance in August. The reworked version of 'Cooped' opens in October for a sell-out run, hosted by One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre in Calgary, Canada. Performances at Arosa Comedy Festival, Switzerland, in December.
2006 'Cooped' tours to Athens, Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Comedy Festival, and is relaunched in the UK with sell-out performances at the Theatre Royal, Brighton Festival, and at the Edinburgh Fringe, with Glynis Henderson Productions becoming our management company. Spymonkey TV appearances at the Melbourne Oxfam Gala, and on Granada's 'Comedy Cuts'.
2007 'Bless', a show about the lives of the saints, previews in Switzerland, Brighton and Newbury and is nominated for 3 Betty Mitchell Awards in Calgary Canada. 'Cooped' at the Just For Laughs Festival Montreal, Southbank London, regional UK touring and Espoo Finland. TV appearances alongside George Lopez, William Shatner and Ardal O'Hanlon at the Just For Laughs galas. 'Stiff' at the Tron Theatre Glasgow in the Merchant City Festival.
2008 'Cooped' spring tour to Toronto World Stages Season and a 13-city tour of Holland and Belgium. Miss Behave's Variety Nighty at the Roundhouse London. 'Cooped' at the Leicester Square Theatre as part of Just For Laughs Live. Winter residency at Palazzo Amsterdam, a spiegeltent cabaret.
2009 Created with Jos Houben and Rob Thirtle 'Spymonkey's Moby Dick', opening at the Royal & Derngate Northampton. Mid-scale tour of the UK including Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic.
2010 Further touring of 'Spymonkey's Moby Dick' to Finland, Edinburgh Traverse and Lyric Hammersmith. First R&D on 'Jekyll & Hyde', a co-production with Lyric Hammersmith and Peepolykus.
2011 Dutch/Belgian tour of Moby Dick. Work begins on 'Oedipussy', directed by Emma Rice and written with Carl Grose. 'Love In', a self-help cabaret directed by Christopher Green, opens at Brighton Festival, wins Best Comedy Award, and runs at the Udderbelly Southbank. 'Jekyll & Hyde', a co-production with Lyric Hammersmith and Peepolykus, directed by Sean Holmes and based on a script by Joel Horwood, has an outing at Latitude Festival. Swedish tours of 'Stiff' and 'Love In'.
2012 Oedipussy opens at Royal Theatre Northampton. UK tour includes Lyric Hammersmith, Liverpool and Theatre Royal Brighton Festival, where it wins an Argus Angel Award. Create and direct the opening and closing ceremonies of Unity Festival at Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff. Cabaret appearances in Innsbruck and Winterthur. Workshops in Liverpool, New York, Maine, Las Vegas, London. Spymonkey become associate company of the National Independent Schools Drama Association.
2013 Revival of 'Cooped' at Leicester Square Theatre London. Created 'Spookshow', a site-specific piece created for the Baronial Room at the Winter Gardens Blackpool as part of Showzam! Festival. Begin work on a pilot with TV comedy writers Abigail Dooley and Emma Edwards. Oedipussy tour to Edinburgh & Kingston. 'Love In' to Arosa Comedy Festival. Workshops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berlin, London, Finland.
2014 'Cooped' at Tipi Berlin; Aitor & Toby collaborate with Told By An Idiot's Paul Hunter and Sophie Russell on Feydeau's 'Every Last Trick' for Northampton Royal & Derngate; coproduction with director Ed Gaughan and writers Bob & Barry Cryer of 'Mrs Hudson's Christmas Corker' at Wiltons Music Hall; the clown opera 'Fabulous Bäckström Brothers' opens in Helsinki, directed by Toby and Aitor.
2015 Spymonkey direct physical comedy for Chichester Festival Theatre's 'Mack & Mabel', starring Michael Ball; Petra appears at Shakespeare's Globe in 'Measure for Measure and The Oresteia. Rehearsals for 'The Complete Deaths' begins as part of residency at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London. Pilot workshop for addicts in recovery with Phoenix Futures.
2016 BIG BANG SIEGFRIED with Orchestra Hagen, a version of Fabulous Backstrom Brothers for full symphony orchestra. THE COMPLETE DEATHS opens on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, tours to Brighton Festival, Istanbul International Festival, Vicenza Festival Italy, Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
2017 THE COMPLETE DEATHS at Chichester Festival Theatre and Czech Republic. Professional training projects rolled out in London, Maine, Berlin, NYC, LA, Hawaii.
2018 THE FLOP, a collaboration with Hijinx Theatre Company, at Edinburgh Fringe and on tour, nominated for a Total Theatre Award. MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR at Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Barbiccan Spymonkey's A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Liverpool Playhouse. Our first 3-week Clown Creation School in London.
2019 TARTUFFE at National Theatre. COOPED is revived as part of our 20th anniversary celebrations for Brighton Festival, and enjoys first US resindency in Tampa Florida as HYSTERIA. Petra begins work on ATOMIC SALOON with Spiegelworld Las Vegas.
2020 Development continues on DENNIS with Zack Fine, supported by The Orchard Project NYC; our first show for children, HAIRY in co-production with Polka Theatre London; and APOCALYPSE WOW, our new major touring show. Covid-19 pandemic initiates a range of virtual projects including the Garage of Broken Stupid Ideas, a global mentoring project to create new online clown work.
SPYMONKEY is the UK's leading physical comedy ensemble, based in Brighton and comprising a core creative ensemble comprising artistic directors Toby Park, Petra Massey and Aitor Basauri, associate artists Stephan Kreiss and designer Lucy Bradridge, and executive producer Emily Coleman.
We have been making sublimely ridiculous theatre since 1998.
Whilst performing with the Swiss site-specific theatre company Karl's Kühne Gassenschau in 1997, Toby, Petra, Aitor and KKG founder Paul Weilenmann embarked on a small winter side-project, inviting clown director Cal McCrystal to work with them for a week at Central School of Drama. A year later they presented their first show, STIFF, at Komedia Brighton, which enjoyed a brief tour of UK and Switzerland in late 1998. In 2000 Stephan Kreiss replaced Paul Weilenmann to establish the ensemble that has remained at the heart of the company's work since then.
With our dark, edgy physical comedy rooted ‘somewhere between Monty Python, the Marx Brothers and Samuel Beckett’ (The Houston Chronicle), and a quartet of performers from Spain, Germany and England, Spymonkey have proved to be a truly international phenomenon, enjoyed by and accessible to a wide range of international audiences. They have created 9 shows to date:
Stiff (1998), a black comedy about undertakers, Total Theatre Award Winner, British Council Showcase of the best of British theatre in 2001, toured to Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Finland, Spain, France, USA, Canada, Mexico, Syria, Ireland, Romania, Czech Republic and Sweden.
Cooped (2001, mid-scale version 2005), a gothic romance directed by Cal McCrystal, international tours to Sydney Opera House, Just For Laughs Montreal, Toronto World Stages, Melbourne Comedy Festival, Brighton Festival, Edinburgh Festival.
Zumanity - Another Side of Cirque du Soleil (2003-05) resident show at New York New York Hotel Casino, Las Vegas. Spymonkey created the comedy content for this adult burlesque show, seen by half a million people.
Bless (2007), about the lives of the saints directed by Cal McCrystal, nominated for 3 Betty Mitchell Awards.
Moby Dick (2009) directed by Jos Houben & Rob Thirtle, which firmly established them as a mid-scale company, including a run at the Lyric Hammersmith, and toured internationally to Finland, Holland & Belgium.
Love In (2011) a self-help cabaret directed by Chris Green, winner Best Comedy Brighton Festival 2011, Udderbelly Southbank.
Oedipussy (2012) created with Kneehigh director Emma Rice and writer Carl Grose, toured UK including Royal & Derngate Northampton, Liverpool Playhouse and Lyric Hammersmith. Winner Argus Angel Brighton Festival.
Every Last Trick (2014) by Georges Feydeau (adapted by Tamsin Oglsesby) a collaboration with Paul Hunter for Royal & Derngate Northampton.
Mrs Hudson's Christmas Corker (2014) at Wilton's Music Hall London, directed by Ed Gaughan
THE COMPLETE DEATHS (2016) created with director/writer Tim Crouch, toured UK, Istanbul International Festival and Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
christmas carol (2018) co-produced with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, setting box office record for a Christmas show at the Playhouse. Directed by Ed Gaughan.
They have made a number of collaborations and commissions:
Miss Behave's Variety Nighty (2008) a variety show at the Roundhouse Camden.
Palazzo (2008-9, 2010-11) a spiegeltent gastronomical cabaret, seasons in Amsterdam and Stuttgart.
Sandi Toksvig's Christmas Cracker (2010) at the Royal Fesitval Hall, with Ronnie Corbett.
Jekyll&Hyde(ish) a co-production with Lyric Hammersmith and Peepolykus, directed by Sean Holmes and written by Joel Horwood for Latitude Festival in 2011.
Spookshow (2013) a site-specific commission for the Winter Gardens at Showzam Festival Blackpool.
THE FLOP (2018) a co-production with Hijinx Theatre Company Cardiff, nominated for a Total Theatre Award.
Members of Spymonkey have collaborated as directors and physical comedy consultants on a number of projects including physical comedy direction for:
Chichester Festival Theatre's Mack and Mabel starring Michael Ball (2015) - physical comedy direction
Royal Shakespeare Company's THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (2018) - physical comedy direction
Conceived and directed the opening and closing ceremonies of Unity Festival Wales Millenium Centre Cardiff
Physical comedy consultancy for Sacha Baron Cohen's feature film GRIMSBY.
Screen appearances have included Solstrom for Bravo Cable Network, Australia Broadcasting Company, BBC, Carlton, Just For Laughs galas with George Lopez and William Shatner, and in the Gemini-Award-winning documentary Lovesick, directed by Lewis Cohen. They have performed as guest acts and hosts in Alternative Eurovision, La Clique, The Razzle, Tina C, South Bank Centre's New Year Eve show with Bellowhead.
The company has a vibrant and increasingly over-subscribed educational department, frequently running workshops around the world. They have lectured to a number of universities and performing arts schools including Winchester University, Kingston University, Northampton University, University of Kent. In 2015 they piloted a programme for recovering addicts in conjunction with Phoenix Futures. More details about all of our educational activities here.
Spymonkey has been the subject of academic study by undergraduates of Rose Bruford (dissertations by Smari Gunnarsson and Mathew Baynton), University of York, University of Northampton, as well as PhD doctorate work by Lucy Amsden of Glasgow University, and Laura Cockett of Liverpool University. Publications examining the company's work include Demian Reis's examination of modern clowning 'Caçadores de Risos' (in Portuguese!) and Stephe Pritchard's study of contemporary dramatic practice. They are an associate company of the National Independent Schools Drama Association (NISDA), and appear on a number of GCSE and A level syllabuses as an exceptional example of devised physical theatre, clown and comedy.