Review from The Public Reviews
Performance: Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds, 5th June 2015
Director: Simon Brewis
Reviewer: David Gann
Drink with a Chimp is a remarkable piece of theatre.
It is well written, acted and directed, but most of all it will touch deep places in all who see it. This is because it comes out of the fragility of our lives. Real lives.
The work emerges as a result of the company spending two years at a place called Spacious Places, a centre in Leeds that runs abstinence based recovery sessions for those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. Drink with a Chimp tells the story specifically of lives affected by alcohol.
Though much of the dialogue takes its inspiration from things really said, it is much more than ‘verbatim’ theatre. There is a sense that this company has got ‘under the skin’ to develop a play that has found both the misery of addiction and the communal hope – even joy – of those that are rediscovering dignity and self-worth. Those that literally have been given back their lives.
There are only two actors on stage, and essentially the narrative is focussed around a young woman and her brother. However, the writer explains in the post-show Q + A, there is a harnessing of several stories and experiences to make a rich pattern of events. There is another major character who greets the audience as they come in. He is a chimp – brilliantly brought to life by Jake England-Johns.
The chimp, it transpires, is the personification of an ingredient in all our lives that needs to be harnessed. It has the potential to destroy or rescue us, and is quicker and stronger than our intellect. The play explores this and is revelatory in its clarity. You don’t have to be an addict to recognise its relevance to all of our experiences.
Lynsey Jones plays Sally, and is a remarkable actress worthy of note. She, in many ways, holds the core of the narrative and the emotional weight of piece. She has to find a huge range of expression – from utter despair to journeys of trial and then resolve and hope – all interspersed with the simple lucidity of being a narrator – and she does so with impressive skill. She has the ability to be both attractive and warm yet take us to places of ugliness and darkness within a moment.
England-Johns is a worthy partner; notably, as has been mentioned, his physical prowess to bring a chimp outfit to life, but also in the multi-roling of characters. This includes various accents and physical changes from the centre manager to the drunken brother and a life-wrecking boyfriend. He also narrates and takes on the role of Dr Steve Peters, whose theories in ‘The Chimp Paradox’ underpin much of the work at Spacious Places and consequently this play. Just occasionally there is a need for a touch more weight and volume in his voice.
Drink with a Chimp has a great future. The first half especially is multi-layered and gripping. The second half, perhaps not quite so; always (strangely?) theatrically harder to take us on a journey of deliverance. However, this is the half of the play that could change lives as it holds out a hand of hope to those that otherwise may never glimpse it.