a review

Two young men dressed as gorillas dressed as old men sit in rocking chairs and rock for 56 minutes and then leave (one of them leaves 10 minutes early)

PBH’s Free Fringe

3 stars

The first of many well-deserved standing ovations came fifteen minutes in, when one of the gorillas moved his rocking chair so that the two gorillas were facing the same way rather than rocking towards each other. It was just one of the many bold moves that defined the character of this, the ambitious third, hopefully now annual, young man dressed as a gorilla dressed as an old man sits in a rocking chair and rocks shows.

For the initiated, the show as in previous years was a one-off theatrical triumph on PBH’s Free Fringe where a young man dressed as an old man dressed as a gorilla sits in a rocking chair and rocks for 56 minutes and then leaves. And that’s it. Nothing else. Within the exquisite vacuum that is created the audience are lead through a dizzying, soul-searching ride of banality and glorious repetition, ultimately finding blessed release in the slightest of incidents. Audience members screamed and cheered in equal measure as the cloth cap worn by one of the gorillas fell to the floor. The two minutes that followed, where the gorilla looked to retrieve his cap, must rank amongst the most gripping ever portrayed on stage. When the cap was finally placed back on his head, applause gushed forth, almost post-coital, from a relieved and utterly captivated audience. We knew we had seen something special.

The big change this year, of course, was in the controversial and headline grabbing addition of a second gorilla. A brave, and some might say worryingly commercial move for the genre, though one that paid off in spectacular style. The two gorillas couldn’t have been more different. Whilst one would sit rocking, the other, newer gorilla, seemed twitchy, restless, reaching for props such as newspapers and cigarettes. The image of pupil and master was hard to escape yet the coup d’theatre came ten minutes from time when, just as we had grown to love and admire the subtle changes this new gorilla had brought, he exited the stage to leave us with just one young man dressed as a gorilla dressed as an old man sat in a rocking chair who rocked for the remainder of the show. We were left unsure whether to cheer or wail, so the audience, to a man, cried real, unapologetic tears.

Humour constantly bubbled under the tense surface. As we watched the two gorillas slowly lift their arms only to lower them again minutes later, expectations of the Beckett like ideals the minimal set had created were clearly being toyed with. The lack of any music or lighting changes also a clear nod to more modernist compositional techniques such as Stockhausen and his horse symphony. Ultimately though the bravado of the rocking and the refinement of the performances raised this to something all its own.

Expectations were inverted and inverted again leaving us exactly where we started at the beginning, but nowhere near where we had begun. A unique and prescient experience, this show was quite simply the most important and life changing event in the history of the fringe.