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Some things you might not have known about Monkey: Journey to the West

  1. The statue of Buddha was designed by Jamie Hewlett and made in Bucharest. It is 9.5 metres high and took five trucks to transport it from Romania to Manchester.
  2. To date monkey has played to sell out audiences in Manchester, Manchester International Festival (July 07) Theatre Du Chatelet, Paris (Sept 07) Spoleto Festival, Charleston USA (May 08), Royal Opera House, London (July 08) So far a total of 88,648 people have seen the show.
  3. Monkey actor Fei Yang was in Golden Globe-winning period drama Farewell My Concubine.
  4. Zeng Li, who plays the Spider Woman, won the first prize at China’s National Pop Music Tournament in 2005.
  5. There are more than 190 costumes, including wigs, masks and prosthetic pieces made in Paris, Berlin and Beijing.
  6. The heaviest costume is the White Horse, which features a head, saddle and rear end.
  7. The cast start costume and make-up three hours before the show starts and may have up to 8 costume changes a night. The shortest costume change is a mere one and a half minutes.
  8. Every costume has been specifically adapted to the acrobat’s movements in the last few weeks of rehearsal.
  9. Monkey was a popular Japanese TV series from the late 1970’s. Monkey has also starred in several big-screen adaptations including A Chinese Odyssey, the 2002 version made by Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer.)
  10. Like the Monkey TV series, Monkey: Journey to the West features a woman playing the noble monk Tripitaka.
  11. The aerial silk artists train for two hours each morning with experts from Switzerland and Germany. The silks choreographer is an American, Caroline Vexler.
  12. The Heavenly Soldiers get around the stage on one wheel; each actor is on a unicycle. The Guest Gods have more wheels and wear rollerblades for their performances.
  13. There are 98 weapons used in the fight scenes.
  14. Kate St John worked on the score and transcription for the show. She was in pop trio Dream Academy, whose biggest hit was 1986’s Life in a Northern Town. She has also worked with Tom Waits, as have percussionist Bent Clausen and musical supervisor David Coulter.
  15. There are 9 scenes in Monkey: Journey to the West. There is no interval and no curtain.
  16. The orchestra is made up of a mixture of European and Chinese instruments, including the Pipa, Zhongran and Zheng, electronic instruments like the Ondes Martenot (played in a similar fashion to the theremin).
    The Klaxophone is an instrument designed and built specially for the production in artist Gavin Turk’s studio.

There are 65 characters in the production. Here’s what the show’s designer Jamie Hewlett has to say about some of them:


“When Monkey realises he’s mortal he can’t live with it and wants to be a god. So he acquires armour and his Monkey rod and goes to gatecrash heaven. Then his problems really start…”


“The monk who rescues Monkey. Most of the monsters and demons are trying to eat him.”


“He broke a crystal chalice in one of Buddha’s palaces so got banished to a river bed. He spends all night eating humans and all day being depressed about it. We’ve all been there.”


“They’re like sirens. They want Tripitaka’s semen to give them immortality. But Monkey stops them.”


“That’s me in the morning! He also wants to eat Tripitaka. He has a gang of girls covered in blood.”


“She keeps a tiny iron fan in her mouth that becomes huge when she takes it out. There’s a sequence where Monkey turns into a bee and flies into her teacup. She then drinks him and he does kung fu inside her stomach.”


“He’s a bit of a drunken letch. He’d love to give the Spider Women his semen, but they don’t want it. He’s a lothario. He has a Dick Emery flourish to him. He’s got a fast food joint that’s littered with filth. His motto is ‘eat first, fight later’. He’s my favourite.”