This show was originally run as a work in progress at the 2019 Vault Festival and has been made available on YouTube for a limited time.
Orangutan is presented by Cup of Brew, written by Toby King, directed by Fiona Kingwill, and performed by Louise Waller. We first meet Alice sitting on her messy bed, overflowing with cushions and clothes. Her mind shoots off in all directions. She’s surrounded on all sides by the audience.
She’s clearly obsessed with the orangutan, first telling us about “drunken sex” in which she trades facts about the animal with a supine partner, and then leading into the recollection of a traumatic event at a zoo when she was three, where her parents didn’t pay enough attention (“one justification, it was the 90s”) and she fell quite a long way into an enclosure with the beasts she now knows so well.
When Alice shares information about the orangutan, she comes to life, she paces around, loosens up, engages with the audience, runs, jumps, and really shows enthusiasm. Her mind may be cluttered but she can enumerate facts and transmit them. As a stage piece you watch in the room, this may have had more immediacy than the film presented here (although it is professionally shot so you can clearly see the intimacy of Waller’s committed performance, even if the audio is a little muffled at times).
Alice is 24, likes gardening (“gardening is a major concern”), lives with her mum. She bubbles with ideas and communication, and King’s writing has the odd strong idea here and there, supported by Kingwill’s imaginative direction which uses movement, set and lighting to create peeks into Alice’s interior world and the fracturing of her mind. As a piece in progress, Orangutan hasn’t yet fully come together, and needs more of an anchor and a purpose than the memory of an experience from two decades before.
Why is Alice here on this messy bed? Why is she fixated on this one animal? And what have the words of Edgar Allan Poe got to do with it? What does she really think of the male species? Why does she carry around such a large amount of guilt, coupled with fascination? I would be fascinated to see how this piece develops into a more focused piece of drama, as all the ingredients are there. They simply need a little more spice, stirring, and heating up.