Some things in life simply shouldn’t be done, such as sticking forks into plug sockets, antagonizing wasps or keeping apes as house-pets. Fortunately Mike Yeaman, creator of Frank Sumatra, chose to ignore the last part.
Staged as a radio play, Frank Sumatra follows Bev and Keith, played by Hannah Walker and Pip Chamberlin, a broody couple who suddenly find themselves looking after a temperamental Orangutan named Frank.
Taking the role of Frank and providing the sound effects throughout the performance is Dean Logan, who despite serious competition from his cast-mates, consistently tries to steal every scene in the show.
The interplay between the three cast members is a joy to behold, as they are all highly expressive and engaging, despite being stuck behind a mic stand.
As a person who has always been interested in the production of radio plays, I felt the Frank managed to find the perfect balance in the staging, for while you could close your eyes and easily follow the narrative, you would be missing out on a great deal.
Chamberlin is excellent as a put upon everyman who finds himself in a surreal situation, and is helped in his role by two of the most expressive eyebrows I have ever seen.
His enraged bluster and consequent retreat in the face of Frank’s outbursts are a joy to behold, as well as the increasingly heated conversations with his long suffering wife over their differing attitudes to ape rearing.
Walker is also very impressive, switching between soothing reassurances and scathing putdowns at the drop of a hat. I am sure her frustrated attempts to coax Frank out of his various shenanigans will be amusingly familiar to any parents in the audience.
As I said earlier, Logan really does everything he can to steal the show, whether it is with Frank’s emphatic grunting or creating yet another sound effect with his array of noisemaking doodads.
His impression of Franks iPad translator is particularly good, sounding like a blend of Stephen Hawking and an even happier Elmo.
One small drawback is the need for the cast to be behind mic stands for most of the performance as this serves to obscure part of their faces, which can be a little distracting given how much focus is on them.
That said, Frank Sumatra takes the serious themes of parenthood and ape rearing and weaves them into a wonderfully surreal piece of theatre.
Frank Sumatra runs until May 18th at The Bedford, Balham.
All images courtesy of Theatre N16.