Camden Fringe 2019: Red Peter at Etcetera Theatre
Red Peter, director Chris Yun-Ward’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s 1917 short story A Report to the Academy, stars Denzil Barnes as the eponymous ape, the actor delivering a captivating performance that showcases his showmanship – together with topical themes – in a well-directed production.
Red Peter addresses the Academy, standing at a podium dressed in a suit, complete with a briefcase by his side. Barnes’s limping gait and curved hands are the epitome of a human imitating an ape emulating a human; the protagonist later explains how he was shot several times, the crimson mark on his left cheek a vivid reminder. Captured in West Africa’s Gold Coast, the primate is imprisoned in a locker, “forced into the world of men.” As he traverses through the small group of attendees tonight, remarking, “Oh you have snakeskin, very poisonous,” it is clear Barnes has fully engaged with his character, keeping the piece surprising and thought-provoking, interspersed with hints of humour. The actor’s gruff exhalations and ape impersonations are convincing, as he switches between the smart simian studying human mannerisms and the animal’s natural traits.
Yun-Ward’s inspiration in adapting Kafka’s story arises from her own experiences in Europe arriving from South Korea, confronting cultural differences alongside the challenges of adapting to a new language. Though the production value is low – as is the case with most, if not all, fringe shows – the team piece together a spectacle that is both smart and engaging, not an easy feat when working with a monologue. The ape’s crazed wild behaviour is displayed particularly well in a scene where he tastes alcoholic spirits for the first time, demonstrated here by Barnes literally jumping off the walls and running rampant. Red Peter doesn’t aspire to become fully human, but only to learn enough in order to acclimatise himself: as he comments, “I did not want freedom, only a way out,” his main ambition being “to gain the knowledge of an average European”.
Barnes is excellent as the gifted ape – who coincidentally comprehends complex feelings of disenfranchisement – while Yun-Ward’s direction is clearly staged, generating a thought-provoking piece on animal cruelty, adaptation and the numberless ways in which brutality is invoked by men.
Photo: Grid Theatre
Red Peter is at Etcetera Theatre from 1st until 6th August 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
For further information about Camden Fringe 2019 visit the festival website here.