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Mr Monkey sees A Thousand Slimy Things at the Royal Exchange Studio, 12th June

Mr Monkey looking at the poster for A Thousand Slimy Things Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the first performance of A Thousand Slimy Things at the Royal Exchange Studio.

A Thousand Slimy Things is an adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic sea-based poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and is a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Tangere Arts.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written in 1797-8 and modified in 1815-6, is Coleridge's longest poem; it's possibly his most famous work. It tells how an old sailor stops one of three people on the way to a wedding and insists on telling him of an awful voyage involving extremes of heat, cold, hunger and thirst, inappropriate use of a crossbow, the deaths of the rest of the crew, being condemned to eternal life aboard the decaying ship, and the Mariner's eventual redemption and return to his home port.

Sally Siner's adaptation of the poem for performance is remarkably effective. Instead of simply having the Mariner recite the poem, or re-writing the poem in modern language, Siner's adaptation has the Mariner himself getting married some time after his voyage. The audience are cast as the wedding guests, the Mariner interrupts the best man's speech, and the Mariner and his best man re-enact the the Mariner's ghastly tale. With the exception of a few lines where the best man tries to stop the Mariner spoiling the wedding, and an expansion of the meeting with the spectre Death-in-Life, the entire text of the play is taken from the poem. Some verses are repeated for emphasis, and some - particularly those detailing the return voyage - are omitted.

Darren Lawrence and Gary Lagden at a high point in the voyage (Royal Exchange Production photo) The set is minimal to the point of non-existence, just an empty space with a table and two chairs, which quickly become the Mariner's ship. All the furniture is wheeled so it can be skilfully whirled around the stage.

As the Mariner, Darren Lawrence really did fix Mr Monkey with a glittering eye from the very beginning, and portrayed the tortured soul of the Mariner excellently. Gary Lagden was brilliant as everybody else, from the slightly comic hermit to the terrifying Death-in-Life (it's amazing what a difference a bit of lipstick and a tablecloth can make). He has a nice line in intimidating the audience, and Mr Monkey was rather glad he hadn't sat in the front row. There is some audience participation.

Darren Lawrence and Gary Lagden at a low point in the voyage (Royal Exchange Production photo) Throughout the play the atmosphere was heightened by live music on a variety of instruments by Christopher Preece.

Mr Monkey was impressed with the splendid lighting, especially the illusion of a star seemingly achieved via spotlights, some dry ice smoke and a slow disco mirrorball. Mr Monkey really enjoyed this compelling adaptation of a complicated poem, and left feeling wiser, but not sadder.

A Thousand Slimy Things runs at the Royal Exchange Studio until June 23rd 2012.

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