Trevor – a timely alternative to deterministic narratives. (Theatre Review)


Outhouse theatre with bAKEHOUSE

June 14 – July 6. You can grab your tickets here.

images: Clare Hawley

Since the discovery of the social complexity of primate societies other than Homo sapiens, a general argument has taken hold that reduces, or fights the reduction of, the human being as if it were necessary to defend the autonomy of the social against the danger of excessive reduction to the biological. Rather than see the development of sociobiology as an extension to animals of classical questions of philosophy about the definition of the social actor (the privilege of a social order over the individual, the essential role of the intellect or of the role of power and dominance in relationships) many of us have found ourselves defending the difference between animals and humans. This is exemplified via a common parlance that regularly seeks to justify any and every behavior willy nilly via distortions such as the regular misquote “survival of the fittest” and so on. Sociobiology then, has been almost fully appropriated by its detractors who seek to replace a perfect creator god with a perfect creator nature, as if watching nature helps reduce us to a purity lost through intellect and social structural organisation. This distortion has been raging for several decades.

Now we see the play Trevor written by Nick Jones, where the writer cleverly appropriates Arthur Miller structures and dialogue tropes to tell the story of a “mother” and her “ape son” where each is seeking to understand and be understood by the other based on a firm platform of love. The ape knows it is loved, and it is only until that love falls under question that it is no longer able to struggle through the very human reality of perpetual misunderstandings. Nick Jones paints us a picture of a primate with hopes and dreams, aware of power, perpetually frustrated by banality, existential angst and inactivity. Cleverly, these concerns reveal themselves as ‘baser’ than a sophisticated human’s may, but in the end, they exist as a child’s dreams and visions may present. Trevor is presented as far more than a presocial being motivated solely by instinct, reactions or appetites seeking immediate gratification of its goals (generally assuaging hunger, reproduction or power). Instead Trevor (a fantastic Jamie Oxenbould) is presented more in line with sociobiological findings, as an actor who cannot attain anything without negotiating at length with others.[1] This continual negation is at its core fed by the perpetual interference of others and success coming at the hand of successful negotiations. This large number of variables indicates social complexity ‘in the state of nature’ that already indicate a potent social scene that overrides and informs all those responses that can be dubbed ‘reflex.’

In this way, Trevor, particularly as directed by Sean Rennie (who emphasises the human aspect of the animalistic) becomes a kind of simplified mythology for an alternative baseline from which to tackle social theory afresh. We no longer have to make a pretense of being able to read and understand our own ‘instincts’ therefore we no longer have to defend the distortions of ‘nurture’ against the perfectionism of ‘nature’. The true story of the ape Travis the Chimp rightly obsessed Nick Jones, for it directly confronted the pop-deterministic notions appropriated by those seeking to replace god with nature. When Jamie Oxenbould is ‘being’ Trevor, we are forced to confront our misconceptions (willful distortions?) about the essential nature of human complex interactions in the development of the human psyche and in the question of what it means to be human.

Outhouse theatre bring us another stellar production for 2019 (I loved Gloria – they are bringing great theatre to our stages this year) that steps outside the box. Political issues have a tendency to become fads or fashions in our zeal to have our say on certain topics, and its great to see strong plays performed very well that tackle important subject matter rarely examined. Sean Rennie is an excellent choice as director for the piece, as his lightness of touch and general joi de vivre infuses every portion of the play, leaving us properly open for its intellectual detail and surprising emotional depth. Particularly important, Sean Rennie calls forth great performances from the entire cast, making the social points of Trevor all the more accessible. Di Adams as Sandra and Jamie Oxenbould as Trevor are particularly strong in conveying a natural warmth and empathy that we would expect from this odd and interesting couple. Standouts are the comic turns in place from Garth Holcombe as Oliver and Eloise Snape as Morgan Fairchild (these comic performances have to be seen and experienced) which posit nicely against the more serious (and yet also fine) performances from David Lunch as Jim, Jemwel Danao as Jerry, and Ainslie McGlynn as Ashley. In this Sean Rennie led world, the antagonists are as appealing as the comic characters and that in itself is no small feat.

Technically the production shines also, on a wonderful set by Jonathan Hindmarsh managed and organized beautifully by Adrienne Patterson. Lighting design by Kelsey Lee moves the narrative in all sorts of directions on the set and works in a simpatico with Melanie Herbert’s constructed sounds. Little details like Amanda Stephens Lee’s dialect coaching and Nigel Poulton’s fight choreography give the production depth when it is in danger of being too superficial.

All in all, Trevor is pone of those rare theater events that tackles a serious issue in a light happy way getting its message across and evoking a fun night at theatre. Jamie Oxenbould carries the weight of this production on capable shoulders and he does not disappoint. Make sure you get to Trevor and take the kids. Lots and lots to talk about here.

[1] An easy way of explaining this is to take the chimpanzee that will leave a rich food source because its troop is moving on and it cannot stay behind alone. Or again, that of a male baboon that cannot copulate with a female in heat, without first, verifying that she will cooperate – a cooperation that had to have been obtained over the course of a period of friendship during times when she was not in oestrous.