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Great Apes review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘an intelligent adaptation’

The cast of Great Apes at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Nick Rutter The cast of Great Apes at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Nick Rutter
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It’s like a kind of reverse, simian version of The Metamorphosis. Turner Prize-winning painter Simon Dykes (an anxiety-ridden Bryan Dick) wakes up after a night of e-swallowing and coke-sniffing to find that the world is no longer populated by humans, but by chimpanzees.

He’s got a chimpanzee girlfriend, chimpanzee kids, and – after he’s admitted to chimpanzee hospital because of his human delusions – a chimpanzee psychiatrist.

Will Self’s 1997 novel, adapted here by Patrick Marmion, is on one level a straightforward satire of human society. In the rutting rituals and machismo brawling of the ape-world, he finds a rich and timely echo of our own special brand of toxic masculinity.

But on another level, it’s a philosophical treatise. What’s so special about being human, Great Apes asks, if our planetary domination is only down to the tiniest of evolutionary quirks?
Marmion, who embraced similarly psychological fare with The Divided Laing in 2015, captures most of that in his seven-man adaptation. He follows Simon on his rehabilitative journey through this new world with wit and intelligence. It’s never emotionally arresting, but it’s always good, fascinating fun.

Oscar Pearce makes a promising directorial debut, his minimalist staging jumping from pulsating nightclub to psychiatric ward in a heartbeat.

Most impressive, though, is his wonderfully physical seven-strong cast, who assume ape form gleefully with the help of harem pants and crutches. Ruth Lass is particularly impressive as Dr Zack Busner, the alpha male of this ooh-ing, ah-ing, screeching party of primates.

The Divided Laing review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘fun and thought-provoking’

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Verdict
Intelligent adaptation of Will Self’s satirical, chimpanzee-filled thought experiment
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