Review: Going Ape! (Union Theatre)

This Biblical comedy by Andrew Corbet Burcher returns to the Union, directed by Evan Ensign. The premise is what might happen if the Creationist and Evolutionist stories came together around three hundred years after God made the world in seven days.

Adam and Eve seem your ordinary, long-married couple. He’s a bit dull, ordinary, easily pleased by the names he’s conjuring up for the animals. He wears a fig leaf over his clothes in the way a middle-aged man would wear a throwback from his teenage years. She’s big, brash and bored from centuries of chatting to herself. She loves her son Cain despite his childishness and new ageist philosophies.

When Cain comes to visit, bringing his new girlfriend Lucy, it’s clear he is a control freak who likes her unevolved and practically silent. He’s the aspirational son vaguely ashamed of his humble origins, and troubled by what really happened between him and his dead brother Abel.

Laura Tyrer and Anabel Kutay in Going Ape

The others in the family are Seth, a gurning, dim, drummer and his WAG-like girlfriend Genevieve, who shops at ‘Primate’ and prefers to be known as Jenny. It seems an odd match but she’s drawn by the primitive beat of his bongos.

When Lucy evolves into a refined woman and takes over the family’s myth and the very story of creation, the plot leads into an amusing second act where the process of ‘putting on a show’ is aligned with God’s miracle. When Day 1 is reduced to “He created the lighting design” you know this is a play of irreverence and fun.

The six-strong cast have a lot of fun with the silly material, which includes several show and film references and pretty awful puns. There are nice touches around Eve’s recipe book (scrambled apples, anyone?), and a cave painting of the family dominates what serves as Adam and Eve’s ‘living room’.

Siôn Lloyd, you may recall, really impressed me when he played one of the main roles in the West End production of The Price in 2019. Here, as Adam, he proves he can also shine in comedic mode, with his jaded body language and determined dad dancing. Melanie La Barrie, previously delightful as Bow Belles in the National’s Dick Whittington and as the nurse in &Juliet, is a lively and amusing Eve.

Sion Lloyd and Melanie La Barrie in Going Ape

As the strutting and Alpha male Cain, Gabriel Vick is a hoot as he whines one moment and tries to justify his reputation the next. Anabel Kutay’s Jenny shows off her ballet and dance training (she also acts as choreographer), and she has a great face, full of expression, for this material. Henry Collie, who was such fun in The Silly Sketch Show a couple of years ago gives a performance that is vaguely Pythonesque and utterly charming as younger son Seth.

And Laura Tyrer’s Lucy is convincing whether gutterly evoking the virtues of bananas or becoming the theatre director from hell, making a pact with Himself to create the world’s first show’s opening night. It’s a note perfect cast.

Where Going Ape! goes adrift just a little is in its reluctance to fully develop the characters we see. It is all caricature and sketch show. Regardless, this is a fine piece of escapism, with interesting set design from Poppy Corbet Burcher, effective sound from Thomas Evans, and fine costumes from Cieranne Kennedy-Bell.

Going Ape! is running at the Union Theatre in Southwark until 10 July. Book your tickets here.

Image credit: Union Theatre

LouReviewes received a complimentary ticket to review Going Ape!