Friday, July 2, 2021

Review: 'Going Ape' at the Union Theatre, 29 June 2021

Bad Nights and Odd Days reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

As the lockdowns lift and theatres open their creaking doors, dust down their stages, and warm up the lights, it's forgivable that there's a hell of a lot of plays on the way about COVID. After all, Britain's playwrights and actors have been deprived of an audience for far too long and their job is to process the last 18 months through drama. 

But in the midst of all that soul-searching and societal psychoanalysis, there's got to be room for shows that just want to have some goofy fun. Enter Andrew Corbet Burcher's Going Ape.

Set a few hundred years after Adam and Eve (Siôn Lloyd and Melanie La Barrie) were booted out of the Garden of Eden, we find them as a bickering married couple awaiting a visit from Cain (Gabriel Vick). He arrives with his new girlfriend Lucy (Laura Tyrer) in tow, an Australopithecus with plans for personal evolution. They're soon joined by new brother Seth (Henry Collie), a budding musician canoodling with his girlfriend Genevieve (Anabel Kutay).

Siôn Lloyd and Melanie La Barrie as Adam and Eve

At times Going Ape feels like a sitcom pilot, each character is broadly drawn and nothing is taken seriously. Lloyd channels Fred Flintstone via Jim Royle for his Adam, behaving as the classic put-upon patriarch around which the drama is built, with each subsequent character slotting into extremely familiar archetypes. I also particularly enjoyed Vick's "gap yah" trust fund dope Cain and the way Tyrer pulled a reverse Flowers for Algernon as she got smarter (and bossier).

It's also very loosely plotted, with the first half of the show a series of character introductions and the second showing them putting on "the first show" to retell Genesis. But narrative isn't necessarily important for a comedy as long as it delivers jokes, and Going Ape successfully cleared my "make me actually laugh three times" bar for a successful comedy.

But though it caused ripples of giggles, I realised that comedies face an uphill battle while social distancing is on. Smaller audiences mean fewer laughs no matter how funny you are and this lessened feedback must affect the performances. Even so, I chuckled a whole bunch throughout: enjoying Adam taking his job of naming the animals seriously - especially when getting snooty about Lucy naming herself 'Australopithecus' ("what kind of name is that?!"), everyone's shared joy over discovering bananas, and the interactions with God towards the end of the play.

Gabriel Vick and Henry Collie as Cain and Seth

There are a couple of clangers. I wasn't a huge fan of Collie's obliviously dim Seth, who was too broad even for this material - and I don't understand why he was dressed as a beatnik. Perhaps this was simply to facilitate the worst moment in the show in which they make a reference to The Fast Show, a gag that feels like its fallen out of a time warp from 25 years ago and should be jettisoned immediately.

I don't want to bag on Going Ape too hard. It might not be the tightest, side-splitting, or most narratively propulsive show around, but I can't deny I had a good time. Smiling and laughing as part of an audience still feels alien (and likely will for a while yet) and honestly, it's nice to watch something that's pure silly escapism that has zero relevance to the nightmare world beyond the theatre door.

Going Ape is at the Union Theatre until 10 July 2021. Tickets here.

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