It makes sense that the play Trevor, produced by Knock & Run Theatre and currently being performed at the Newcastle Theatre Company, owes its authenticity to a true story. That an adopted chimpanzee could become a beloved member of a household, let alone an American television personality who appeared on talk shows, is a truth stranger than most theatrical fictions.
Less peculiar is what happens when this character is first appraised by his audience. It's no surprise when Trevor the chimp, embodied by James Chapman, lumbers onto the stage to the sound of immediate laughter. A primate who drives himself home, throws his car keys on the kitchen table and then starts complaining about the difficulties of being an actor is an absurd and hilarious introduction.
Far more surprising is what follows. Leaving aside the performances, which are uniformly convincing, Allison Van Gaal directs this play to unfold at a pace that quickly overtakes us. It's chaotic, it's bewildering and it's perfect. It's exactly what living with this awkward mess of primal man energy would feel like.
Just before Van Gaal lets us catch up we suddenly have Trevor leaping over the couch, daydreaming about Morgan Fairchild and raiding the fridge for snacks. What else would a hyperactively ambitious chimp do? And by the way, don't ever call him that C word. He's very sensitive about it.
In the fleeting moments in which Trevor does take a breath, it's impact on the audience rarely diminishes. We shake our heads in dismay when he's caged. We worry when Jim (a perfectly artless Patrick Campbell) suggests Trevor might need a handler. When his mother (Karen Lantry) worries about his future, we accompany her into her anxieties. Alongside the bombast of her Trevor and his cocky frenemy Oliver (an exceptionally funny Ben Louttit), Lantry is brilliantly understated throughout as the devoted, fretful and proud co-dependant.
But just when we think we've settled, even for a minute, into a domesticated melodrama, Chapman bursts out of the cage dressed as a character who is even more elusive and complex. He's an excellent actor playing a chimpanzee who isn't one. Trevor isn't funny or particularly talented. Chapman is both. His physical interpretations are precise and consistent. He's even skilled enough to convince us that none of this madness is truly Trevor's fault. The little surprise he finds down the back of his pants belongs to someone else. Of course we don't believe him. But Chapman makes sure that we want to.
Zac Smith adeptly doubled as Jerry and the P.A, combining his instinct for overblown silliness with a naturalistic warmth. In a role that was probably a little underwritten, Nerida Walker brought us all the shallow, hollow celebrity of Morgan Fairchild. Although there were issues with projection in her earlier scenes, Maddie Ballie was strong as an unadorned Ashley. Alongside the last scene in the play, in which truths are alluded to, yet cleverly left unsaid, the earlier panic over her baby was powerfully translated.
Trevor, written by Nick Jones, produced by Knock & Run Theatre, directed by Allison Van Gaal, Newcastle Theatre Company, Shows Wednesday 7pm, Friday 7pm, Saturday, 2pm and 7pm