By Fred Pryce
I had high hopes going into Outhouse Theatre Co’s production of Trevor at Kings Cross Theatre. Outhouse has established a very impressive resume of interesting, contemporary productions, from multiple acclaimed productions of Annie Baker plays to Gloria, playing concurrently at the Seymour Centre. And director Shaun Rennie, having recently directed wonderful, magical shows like The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, is perfectly suited to the dual strains of whimsy and realism in Nick Jones’ Trevor, the story of a pet monkey who dreams of stardom while living in a cramped house. So perhaps it’s my fault I left the play a little disappointed, feeling quite positively towards it, as it can’t help but feel slight in comparison.
Jamie Oxenbould’s performance as the titular chimpanzee is the reason to see Trevor, as he walks about a dozen delicate lines in order to create a full-bodied, complex character (that’s also a monkey). Dressed in Minion-style yellow and blue, Trevor resembles and acts like a particularly unruly toddler, especially given the motherly relationship he has with Sandy, his owner. Despite no obvious markers of his chimp-hood, Oxenbould’s every movement is perfectly attuned to the way the animal would exist in the space, from that stilted and swaggering walk, to how he rests his curled hands or sits sprawled on the couch, to his restless, untethered energy as he paces and mindlessly grabs household objects to hide. His voice feels appropriate too, like a childish impersonation of a stand-up comic that suits his dry delivery of some wondrously dumb jokes (“Cool Trevor,” he intones, donning sunglasses on a whim). Equally important to not breaking audience immersion are the reactions of other characters, who are understandably nervous being in the presence of a strong, unpredictable animal. The exception is Sandy, in a terrifically empathetic performance by Di Adams. A widow who was given Trevor by her late husband and refused to simply give him away, you instantly understand her housebound rituals and her fussy, loving dedication to her primate child, standing by him far past the point of normality. She’s a good person, and the heart of the show, as well as the source of philosophical thought about how we see and treat animals, making an argument for respect and responsibility despite a constant tinge of creepiness in their relationship.
There are two plot threads: that of Trevor’s place in the neighbourhood being assessed after some dangerous incidents (he drives a car!), and Trevor’s dreams of returning to Hollywood glamour, after starring in a commercial alongside actress Morgan Fairchild. His matter-of-fact observations of what it takes to be a star are always amusing, especially when contrasted with how he interprets the immediate world around him - basically, that humans like it when he pretends to be like them. Garth Holcombe is hilariously plummy as Oliver, another monkey who serves as a source of inspiration for Trevor, wearing a white tux and living with his “human wife and two half-human children.” The surreal moments where he talks to Oliver or Fairchild (Eloise Snape, also great) and reenactments of his time in showbiz are terrific, but spread few and far between the mundane confinement of the dated apartment, decorated to depressing, carpeted perfection by Jonathan Hindmarsh. As funny as Trevor constantly is in the space, his observations are essentially riffs on the same joke, and he eventually runs out of new things to explain from his assured perspective. And once we’ve been filled in on his backstory, the play begins to stall until the obvious tension of Trevor’s place in the world erupts to an inevitably messy conclusion.
But even when the bit gets a bit old, simply observing Oxenbould as Trevor is ever-fascinating, even if the writing seems to play up philosophical aspects of the character more than are actually present. Is he a monkey... or really a man?, the play asks, one of those chin-stroking questions that’s not actually meant to be answered (yes, he’s a monkey). It feels a bit like Trevor himself, childishly prodding these bigger questions and seeing how we react, before satisfyingly waddling away. But, as he says, it’s still always funny to watch the monkey do man things.
Photo Credit: Clare Hawley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.