In all the conventional ways Sandra is just a single mom doing her best to make ends meet after her husband left her while still providing the nurturing and stimulating environment her growing child needs. The only difference is that her son Trevor is actually a chimpanzee and the older he gets, the more precarious their position in the town becomes.
This quirky script from Los Angeles’s Nick Jones plays upon misunderstanding to illuminate the many similarities between humans and primates with some tongue-in-cheek jabs at the entertainment industry. Sandra (Di Adams) is a typical American woman with the unusual exception that she has been raising a chimpanzee named Trevor (Jamie Oxenbould). In the past, Trevor was a performer who appeared in television commercials with dreams of the big time: showing off his talents in animal variety shows. But the years have not been kind and he is growing to feel cooped-up in Sandra’s house, terrorising the neighbours with his driving and generally making himself unwelcome in the community.
The play operates through a doubled lens through which the audience can understand both Trevor’s inner monologue and the humans’ conversations, but these worlds are not mutually intelligible for those within them. It’s a structure that breeds miscommunication to humorous and dramatic effect, forming the catalyst for the key misunderstanding between Sandra and Trevor that leads to the downfall of their private haven. There is also the added intrigue of Trevor’s friends, another performing chimp making it big in Hollywood Oliver (Garth Holcombe) and the apple of Trevor’s eye, raunchy starlet Morgan Fairchild (Eloise Snape), who appear to him in invigorating daydreams that spur on his acting ambitions.
In the human world, a new neighbour (Ainslie McGlynn) is set on dismantling the guise of security Sandra has built for Trevor and thus she challenges the very foundations of Sandra’s fantasy, the world she has used to protect herself from pain, loneliness, and disappointment. Like so many people with pets or unusual companions, Sandra has invested her life in Trevor and when it all falls away, this is a story about love even, yes, between a human and the primate she takes care of.
Taking place entirely in Sandra’s house, realistically designed by Jonathan Hindmarsh, and Trevor’s imagination, the malaise of the chimp’s captivity becomes palpable, especially as Oxenbould runs around, throws things, and altogether maximises use of the entire space. Lighting design from Kelsey Lee adds glamour to Trevor’s musings and memories, particularly his friend Oliver’s high-flying stories, in showy splashes of blue and pink that contrast pitifully against linoleum and beige carpet.
Direction from Shaun Rennie ramps up the rambunctiousness and wildness of this production to the likeness of a sitcom predicated on a silly secret like Mork & Mindy or 3rd Rock from the Sun. At the same time, there is a delicacy to balancing the great physical humour with the more poignant underlying messages between Sandra and Trevor. Adams is touching in the depth she lends Sandra’s desperation and her miserable attempts to wretch control of the situation and her spiralling life. Her pleading with the authorities and the extreme measures she takes demonstrate a compassionate commitment that forms the backbone of this story.
Of course, Oxenbould is the star of the show in his extraordinary portrayal of Trevor. From the physicality to the charming and bright characterisation, the actualisation foregrounds Oxenbould’s deft talent. He’s a character that absolutely sparkles in both novelty and delight even while weighing the frustration and dispiriting experience of boredom as a caged animal.
This portrait proposes a convincing argument for the similarities between humans and primates, or animals more generally, and directly challenges what the quantifiable differences are. However, in the climactic crucial misunderstanding, the gulf between Sandra and Trevor looms large and seems to swallow both sympathy and cynicism in an unsettled conclusion. It’s a discomforting articulation of the real world relationship between humans and animals as our impact on their habitat and lives creeps ever closer to irreversibility.
Trevor is running at Kings Cross Theatre from June 14th – July 6th