The memory of falling into an animal enclosure may not, or at least I hope not, be a familiar one. However, the emotional turmoil that Orangutan explores as a result of this bizarre and threateningly life altering event, is universally felt. A feeling of entrapment, lack of purpose and unfulfilled potential reaches all of us at one point in another, whether remembering you were victim to an orangutan speeds up these feelings or not.
Alice is careful with her words and wishes to explain herself to the audience. She is aware of her narcissistic tendencies, not that this stops her from recounting her various misadventures, and wishes to understand why she is the way she is. Her memory of being around Boody the orangutan, though brief, has begun to overwhelm her adult life and is disrupting not just her ability to be a functioning adult, but has caused her to break up with her boyfriend, stay unemployed and has prohibited her from maintaining a healthy relationship with herself.
She begins detailing her experience as though it is a destructive secret, although, of course, the audience already knows what has happened and therefore the big reveal is not such a reveal. Indeed it becomes clear that she may be using her original trauma as a scapegoat to explain her failed steps toward adulthood; it becomes an open therapy session that isn’t as helpful or exciting for the audience as it is for Alice.
Real emotion and pain are hinted at, but ineffectually withheld. While Louise Waller is quietly confident as Alice, she fails to reach an emotional peak. She indeed excels at accents, we get glimpse at her immersive character potential when a few different coloured spotlights, and exerts from Rudyard Kipling and others bring her to a flickering life. However, when the lights go up and we are again left with just Alice, the feeling is lacklustre.
The room is intense, benches are placed at each end of a messy bed, bringing the audience up close and personal (Production Manager is Timothy Kelly). The space may even be too small, even Waller finds herself tripping on some ill-placed spotlights. And while Waller does not shy away from audience interaction, and when it comes to stripping down to her darkest worries she is happy to expose herself, her comedic interactions instead feel uncomfortable. When asking one audience member to remind her of what she was saying, his spluttering takes over from her spotlight.
Orangutan shows us how life can be disappointing and upsetting, although experience with an ape fails to bring any real authenticity to this tale. Instead, it subdues the audience through failed comedic jabs and almost tears. It skims the surface on very real and relatable pains but does not take the plunge. Alice’s attempted comedic and relentless insistence that an orangutan is an ape and not a monkey can only take you so far.
Orangutan is playing at the VAULT Festival until 10 March. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.