I start with a confession. I have never cared much for King Kong. The plotline has always come across as absurd and ridiculous, and even in my school days I knew it was meddling and incompetent politicians (of whatever governing party) that wreaked havoc amongst the general population, not some giant monster on the loose. I am particularly disinterested in spending 187 minutes of my life watching the 2005 remake of the 1933 motion picture (the original comes in at a more merciful 104 minutes). I realise I hold a minority opinion – for many, King Kong is a classic. But when I heard a ‘comic reimagining’ of the King Kong phenomenon was to come to the London stage, I was inclined to investigate further.
What this production demonstrates successfully, as a lot of fringe theatre with a strong comedy element does, is provide entertainment without all the weird and wonderful wizardry that motion pictures have at their disposal. It was intriguing to note, waiting for proceedings to begin, is that the title character doesn’t appear in the list of characters in the show’s programme. There’s nothing amiss, really, and I won’t say how they present the growling monstrosity on stage (and it wasn’t using video technology), except to put on record that it was innovative.
Having not seen the film, some of the references to it went over my head. I was able to understand some punchlines well enough – there are times when this production has zero subtlety, the recurring loud proclamations from Token Guy (Brendan Murphy) confirming he is still okay being a case in point – but I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that maximum benefit from the dialogue can only be reached by previous exposure to the source material.
The performances are quite hammed up. Carl Denham (Rob Crouch), the show’s narrator, is one of those pompous impresarios of old, larger than life, claiming other people’s ideas for himself, and readily believing in his next cinematic venture, the details of which I never quite followed. The salient point (I think) is that it had to have a heroine, but as Marv (also Brendan Murphy), a casting agent, tries to tell Denham, nobody wants to work with Denham as his directing skills are not exactly great. Step forward Ann (Alix Dunmore), and the rest, to borrow a cliché, is history.
At least I had no trouble understanding where Jack Driscoll (Ben Chamberlain) or Skipper (Sam Donnelly) were coming from. In the former case, his fear as circumstances combine to put him in a most undesirable situation is both palpable and convincing. In the latter, there seemed a concerted effort to highlight movie bloopers that made the final cut.
Denham breaches the fourth wall at one point: there’s nothing for the reticent to be concerned about. Elsewhere, his reaction at even the mention of a colossal squid had me in stitches, as did talk of a place where Kong and similar creatures were kept away from, by way of fortified structures. Imagine, mused Denham, turning to the audience for dramatic effect, a society so primitive it thinks it can keep something undesirable out by building a huge wall.
It’s a hugely silly show, and it knows it is. To a certain extent, one has to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it for what it is, though I suppose the same could be said of almost any comedy drama. It’s all kept ‘clean’, using a wide vocabulary instead of a lazy plethora of expletives, and in that sense, as well as many others, it’s family friendly. A hilarious send-up and pure, unadulterated fun.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Follow our intrepid cast as they journey to uncharted waters in search of the Eighth Wonder of the World – a gorilla so enormous he instils fear in all who set eyes on him. As hunter becomes the hunted, our story takes us to the iconic skyline of New York City and one burning question must be answered: just how many bananas should we order in?
The cast are: Benjamin Chamberlain (It’s a Wonderful Life, UK tour), Rob Crouch (nominated for the ‘Best Solo Performance’ WhatsOnStage Award for Oliver Reed: Wild Thing, St James Theatre), Sam Donnelly (nominated Most Promising Newcomer for his lead role in the film The Return, which was also nominated Best British Feature at Raindance Film Festival), Alix Dunmore (Pamela/Annabella/Margaret, The 39 Steps, West End, 2014/15; The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Christmas Carol), Brendan Murphy (Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night, Orange Tree; Potted Potter, Toronto & Chicago).
The creative team are: Director Owen Lewis. Set Designer Simon Scullion. Costume and Prop Designer Sophia Simensky. Lighting Designer Tim Mascall. Sound Designer Sam Clarkson
King Kong is terrorising The Vaults this summer from Thursday 22 June – Sunday 27 August.
Press Night: Tuesday 4 July – Independence Day!
A comedy by Daniel Clarkson
22 June – 27 August
THE VAULTS THEATRE
London, SE1 7AD