Playwright Nick Jones has nailed this one!
I was initially excitedly interested and fascinated about how this Trevor script would play out. It was my first time at Red Stitch in Chapel Street St Kilda, with my darling on my arm, equally fascinated by what we were about to see, a wonderful little jewel in our magnificent Melbourne local theatre scene.
Based on events surrounding the Hollywood chimpanzee actor, Travis, who seriously maimed her owner’s friend, Trevor’s macabre storyline has been turned into one of the most hilarious, yet disturbing piece of theatre I believe I have seen.
Acting work dried up for Trevor and when his trainer, husband of lead character Sandra, a trite Mid-American played exquisitely by Andrea Swift, passes away Trevor is kept in the family home by Sandra as a pet/companion.
Trevor’s set is exquisitely period decorated into Sandra’s open plan living and dining area somewhere in middle America, with Trevor’s time out cage in view through the double glass sliding front door. All aspects of the production side of this show were excellent, sound and lights set for plenty of deep belly laughs, high drama and a haunting ending.
Trevor’s world is a one of memories and reaction, a trained chimp who had been ‘humanised’, he can communicate through signing and has been an accepted member of the local community, but I suppose when we train highly intelligent animals certain skill sets to be used for entertainment or profit and they are retired from that stimulation confusion, expectations and boredom sets in.
Lead actor Rory Kelly, playing a very verbose Trevor, captured the physicality of chimpanzee mobility perfectly with a tightly packed gymnastic like delivery. Verbalization of Trevor’s thought process is priceless, the first half of the play is simply hilarious, it just set me off into uncontrolled physically uncontrollable laughter, and Rory just kept hitting that button. I am sure I may have even embarrassed my girl I was losing it so bad!
Sandra’s co dependence with Trevor, thinking she is doing the right thing by keeping him in the family home is the true tragedy. Why humans think it is beneficial to animals that we treat them like pets or abuse them for commercial purposes is beyond me. When dealing with a great ape that is only 2% away from our own DNA though you find that Trevor’s awareness is astute as his human owner, she treats him like a human, he feels and acts as an equal being, yet their communications are often misunderstood.
Trevor’s childlike consciousness packed into a 90 kilogram ape with the strength of four men was continually being stimulated by Sandra’s references to his past career, with cut outs of Morgan Fairchild with whom Trevor had worked and obviously liked a lot, key words that spring hope eternal in his mind for a revived career and more work with Morgan, yeah, a stuffed toy distractor.
The brilliance of Rory Kelly’s interpretation of the chimp’s verbalization in direct connection to his chimp body language is so engaging, it doesn’t take us long to get into the head of the chimpanzee brain, to understand where he is coming from, Sandra’s archetypal mid-western suburban widow was perfectly played and we could see that this good woman was way out of her depth now. Although Trevor and her could adequately manage their relationship in a loving manner, when others in the community start to bring their concerns, through neighbor and friend Ashley played by Eva Seymour, another outstanding performance, to Sandra we feel a distinct shift in what is about to occur in the second half.
Intermission was brief and a the purchase of a couple of white wines to take back into the theatre I entered with foreboding, knowing the subject matter I guessed this was where it was going to get messy per se. We were both blown away by the first half, such humour is hard to find.
Pressure builds and complaints keep coming and Trevor was becoming more and more agitated by the fact that no one seemed to be listening to him, and normal chimp physical expression was being misunderstood as aggression when in his mind it was merely emphasis to his points.
This half also includes some surreal visitations from Morgan Fairchild, Angela Kennedy is pumped to the 80’s glam max in this part, wonderful, and several visits from a chimp mentor, Oliver, Dion Mills, another older chimp actor from Trevor’s past who seems to appear in his most subjective moments. Dion plays a bon vivant chimp of the world, classic vaudevillian brilliance!
Things start to really lose perspective when the chimps pleading for understanding is misunderstood as aggressive behavior and local law enforcement is brought in to deal with the situation, in keeping with the surreal nature of this half of the show the law initially speaks to Sandra in keeping with the community’s initial acceptance of Trevor and its building fear, with all the extra, animated humans taking too much interest in him, Trevor realizes something has gone seriously wrong for him.
Again, perfectly executed by the director and artists, that kept the play emotionally charged right up until the last scene where, fade to black, a police exclusion tape appears to be rolled out around a ‘crime’ scene.
The impact of this final scene struck me very hard, in a number of ways. I will make the presumption that a number of people there around my era would remember this event, often vaguely, for the younger crew they would have Googled Travis and seen the videos, I hope not too many with morbid fascination, but when the final scene hits us ALL that explodes into one’s head is the numbing sadness of this disaster of communication, after 2 and a half hours of the most engaging performances…this moment strikes like a mesh hammer to the consciousness, rewinding the YouTube videos and story links that smack us back into the reality of the subject matter or the historical media memories many have on the story.
I cannot recommend Trevor any higher than I already have; my thesaurus has run out of synonyms for brilliance. Highlighting humanity’s self-deception about our superiority over other species, the humiliation of other sentient beings for the sake of entertainment or profit is a message that could well turn this play into a cult status production.
Do not miss it!
Trevor plays at Red Stitch from July 29th until August 26th, highly recommended!
Director – Denis Moore
Set and Costume – Adrienne Chisholm
Sound Installation – Dawn Holland
Lighting – Daniel Andrews