The Crossroads Inn, and, The Monkey King and the Leopard, at Sadlers Wells.

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Higher, faster, stronger. 

When we look to understand the limits of human physicality, we look to athletes, and sportsfolk. Few, though, could manage the sustained, precise athleticism of the lead performers in this twin show.

The Crossroads Inn contains one of the most famous scenes in the genre of Peking Opera. It begins with a gentle mime in which a warrior, staying for the night in the titular inn, blows out their last candle and, in pitch darkness, finds their way to bed. Soon, an assassin enters the room, intent on killing the sleeper, who is awakened. Both of them, miming their inability to see anything, enact a twenty minute duel in complete darkness, slowly seeking out the other, unable to see them even an inch away. For all the skill and conditioning involved in this scene it plays out as a farce – one of the most remarkable in world theatre and one that should, without doubt, be better known.

The second play, The Monkey King & the Leopard, has moments of comedy, but is a more serious affair. The Leopard of the title is a powerful sorcerer who falls in love with a young woman and announces that, in spite of the wishes of her father and without references to her wishes, he will marry her.

Fortunately for the young woman, her father is currently hosting the Leopard King, a supernatural figure who has recently returned from heaven where he won numerous “upgrades”. Proving that the mythos of the superhero long predates its western incarnation, the Leopard, and his buffoonish sidekick Pigsy, takes it upon himself to defeat the Leopard and his army of monsters.

All of this, though, is just prelude to two long, balletic, athletic, and frankly mind-blowing scenes as the Monkey King and the Leopard duel. There’s no wire work here, no special effects. Just two human beings (and a remarkable supporting cast) trained to an absurd peak of human excellence, and delivering not just mindblowing physical performance but powerful, charismatic and witty dramatic performances.

This show is worth seeing. It will show just what a human being is capable of, and I would encourage you to remember that that includes you.

 

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