Search

Great Apes, Arcola, review: ‘Visually stimulating but the satiric purpose of the fantasy wanes’

PUBLISHED: 16:54 20 March 2018 | UPDATED: 16:54 20 March 2018

Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre

Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre

© Nick Rutter

Part parable, part social satire, Self’s deadpan novel, written in his famously convoluted style, explores the whimsical premise that apes are the dominant species with humans our endangered cousins.

“For all our superiority the only characteristic setting us apart from humans is perhaps self-importance,” says a naturalist ape in Patrick Marmion’s ambitious adaptation of Will Self’s 1997 novel Great Apes.

Part parable, part social satire, Self’s deadpan novel, written in his famously convoluted style, explores the whimsical premise that apes are the dominant species with humans our endangered cousins. Director Oscar Pearce layers in puppetry and movement to bolster the play’s metaphorical resonance in a production that’s repetitive, overloaded with urban references and too taken with the novel’s cool style.

The first 10 minutes evokes the novel’s disorientating opening in a series of brief, brutal scenes set between an art gallery where YBA artist Simon Dykes is attending an opening night, the club where he meets his sexually voracious girlfriend and they take a heady cocktail of drugs, and the hospital where he is sectioned and treated by a group of ape clinicians.

Played on a stripped back stage designed by Sarah Beaton featuring a large canvas onto which alienating urban lighting is projected, Simon’s existential meltdown is clearly, if predictably, presented. Where the production excels is the way details of simian behaviour are organically and wittily incorporated into the acting. Under the psychotic delusion that he’s human, Simon is put under the care of radical Chimp psychiatrist Zack Busner who references R.D Laing (the 60s psychiatrist dramatised in Marmion’s previous play The Divided Laing) as his professional inspiration.

Simon’s rehabilitation depends on his re-connecting with his animal self. Presenting one’s bottom is the height of elegance while random, public grooming, vocalising and casual violence are all deemed socially acceptable. Despite this being a present-day London where people drive Volvos and throwaway references to social media dominate aspirational circles, Simon must learn key new rules of interaction: embrace group sex and, above all, never concede social status.

Bryan Dick channels Simon’s mental confusion and paranoia well but doesn’t quite capture the insouciant charm of Self’s anti-hero. Ruth Lass is convincingly smug and ingratiating as Busner.

This is visually stimulating theatre but the satiric purpose of the fantasy wanes.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Latest Hackney Stories

Yesterday, 17:24

A late strike from Lily Owsley saw England come from behind to grab a point in their Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup opener with India.

Pre-season friendly: Concord Rangers 2 Leyton Orient 3

Yesterday, 11:30

London Lions have announced that guard Jordan Spencer will begin his professional career in the capital next season.

Yesterday, 11:30

Middlesex all-rounder James Fuller had mixed feelings after his stunning 6-28 haul proved in vain in a Vitality Blast T20 defeat at Hampshire.

Yesterday, 10:00

James Fuller’s six-wicket haul proved in vain as Middlesex lost to Hampshire in their latest Vitality Blast T20 match on Friday night.

Yesterday, 09:00

Lunchtime gardening by office workers has turned a littered patch near London Fields into a blooming community project.

Yesterday, 08:30

Hackney’s streets are not used to being scorched two weeks running and the aromas being revealed make for an intense running experience, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Yesterday, 08:00

NBA Crossover runs from August 10-12

PROMOTED CONTENT

To celebrate LGBT history month, Hackney resident Amanda talks about her journey to becoming a foster carer, with the council’s support and training.



Newsletter Sign Up

Hackney Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists