Ever receive a birthday/Christmas present that was basically a photograph with a letter thanking you for adopting some wild animal and promising it will write to you three times a year? Have to say that so far, I’ve been very lucky and not been given a ‘present’ like this – my family know I prefer something tangible, preferably paper with pictures of the Queen on them. But some people do put all thoughts of normality aside and purchase gifts such as these and, as can be seen in Mike Yeaman’s comedy Frank Sumatra at Theatre N16 in Balham, such consideration for the environment can have quite unexpected consequences.
Keith (Pip Chamberlin) and his lovely wife Bev (Hannah Walker) are busy – and noisily – trying to make a baby when there is a knock at the door and sitting outside on the front step is a young orangutan. Not the sort of thing you usually find on the doorstep but still, after some discussion, Keith and Bev decide to take him in and look after him. Bev names him Frank (Dean Logan) and once the couple realise he is the baby orangutan they had adopted in Sumatra some years ago Frank slowly but surely becomes accepted as part of the family. Of course, bringing up an adolescent orangutan is not the easiest job in the world and as Frank grows, then so does his unpredictable behaviour until finally, well you will have to go and find that out for yourselves.
Now, then let me start by giving away one thing about Frank Sumatra. Look as hard as you like and you won’t see an orangutan anywhere in the theatre. Writer Mike Yeaman has very cleverly written this show as a play being performed as a radio play and, I have to say, it really works well in that way. Anyone who has been to a radio recording will instantly recognise the set-up – big microphones and a table laden down with things to make noises. Pip and Hannah are the two radio actors telling the story and Dean is the man working the effects table and making all the appropriate orangutan and speak-and-spell noises. The three actors work exceptionally well together though the three characters have some wonderfully bitchy moments mainly caused by Frank’s over the top effects. Director Neil Armstrong, keeps the pace moving and never lets the audience get too complacent – for example a sound effect sometimes really doesn’t mean what you think it will and there are some wonderfully funny scenes which the audience can visualise in their minds while the characters create the ‘word pictures’ as I believe they were called in radio parlance. There was one that really stood out for me, involving a microwave, a cat and the orangutan that I was still chuckling about after the action had moved on.
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Forgetting the play within a radio play, the script itself is pretty good and the story that unfolds is nicely written – although at times really surreal – and presented. Again it keeps the audience on their toes as to where it will go next, and the ending actually came as a bit of a surprise as the final segment unfolded. I have to say that I really enjoyed the Frank Sinatra music between scenes which worked very well and, of course kept the link to the play title going as well.
Presented as part of the Wandsworth Fringe, Frank Sumatra was a really enjoyable play that had me laughing quite a bit, as the story within a story was played out. I loved the idea of having the play as a radio play and thought it worked very well. The cast were all great in their roles – and it was nice to hear some regional accents in a London production for a change. My recommendation is to go and see it while you can and remember, adopting an endangered animal could be for life, not just for a birthday or Christmas.
Review by Terry Eastham
Bev and Keith are a nice young couple who like to do their bit for the environment and pay ten quid a month to sponsor an orphan orangutan in Sumatra. They are also trying hard for a baby. When their orangutan turns up on the doorstep they suddenly find themselves parents of a hairy, delinquent teenager.
An absurd comedy performed in the style of a live radio recording.
Mike Yeaman (Lucky Numbers, Royal Court, Liverpool) brings his crazy comedy from the North East for London.
Writer: Mike Yeaman
Director: Neil Armstrong
Cast: Pip Chamberlin
Mon 9th – Weds 18th May 2016