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King Kong (A Comedy) review

Last night, I had a date with a big ape. I’m used to a hairy chest and heavy breathing (not mine – that video on Facebook is doctored I tell you), but this beast was unlike any I’d seen before. The whole experience was, literally, bananas.

The location was The Vaults theatre, in Waterloo, where a cast of five braved King Kong (A Comedy), a condensed and wonderfully loose retelling of the classic tale. Penned by Daniel Clarkson, the writer and actor is one half of the Olivier-nominated duo behind the hilariously funny ‘Potted’ series. You know, Potted Potter, Potted Sherlock, Potted Panto, Potted Shrimp… Okay, I made up that last one. To my knowledge, Clarkson has never potted a crustacean – but I just wanted to check if you were paying attention. If he can monkey around, why can’t I?

Initially tricked into believing I was watching a re-imagining of Hollywood’s 1933 introduction to King Kong, I enjoyed the unexpected nods to later sequels and other action flicks, but the incorporation of a cheeky game of Donkey Kong was a masterstroke of genius! Sadly, despite being blindsided, the play couldn’t shatter my funny bone. The punches kept coming but many were wide of the mark.

King Kong
Credit: Geraint Lewis

Directed by Owen Lewis, the cast was excellent in their roles, speeding in and out of view while juggling multiple costume changes to deliver a gaggle of oddball characters, each with their own unforgettable traits, accents and quirks. Rob Crouch was suitably bombastic as filmmaker Carl Denham and Ben Chamberlain’s haplessness as the nice but dim Jack Driscoll was well exaggerated for laughs.

Sam Donnelly’s gristly, dry-humoured, Skipper was a cross between a peg-legged pirate and Captain Quint from Jaws, while Alix Dunmore’s modernised, wickedly smart, Ann, almost stole the show as a not-so-distressed damsel who can hold her own. Overshadowing them all was Brendan Murphy, who took on the parts of Marv, Larry and ‘Token Guy’, the latter being that dude you always get in the movies: destined to die so the body count racks up while the principal cast remains unscathed.

The simplicity of Simon Scullion’s set – four tiers of art deco panelling which somehow served as everything from a mountain to a ship – was countered with a succession of quirky props which became ever more comical throughout the evening. Produced with Costume Designer, Sophia Simensky, their creative vision was brought to life not only by the cast but also by Sam Clarkson’s excellent soundtrack and Tim Mascall’s lighting.

At 70 minutes long with no interval, the play ran for just the right length, but the script was busier than an anti-Brexit rally: joke after joke was thrown out to the crowd, only to land untouched in the aisles. The issue wasn’t one of pacing but one of messaging: a sense of being fed the same old line, over and over (Denham’s a chauvinist, we get it!).

King Kong
Credit: Geraint Lewis

The narrative lingered for too long on mundane events (like Ann’s efforts to get a part in Denham’s picture) and left me gagging for more when thrilling scenes were suddenly amputated mid-stride (King Kong v. Godzilla ran for a side-splitting few seconds).

I loved the clever dig at President Trump, a brilliant gag about a man with no hands, an even better joke using a hat, humorous shenanigans with ‘Token Guy’ and some show-stealing puppetry including a human sacrifice. The sacrifice scene was hysterically entertaining – the kind which makes you belly laugh.

That gut-busting humour was too sparse for my liking but a man seated in the row behind laughed so frequently, and with such delight, I have concluded that the problem is not that the show isn’t sufficiently funny, it’s merely that it isn’t my brand of humour.

The Potted series had me clutching my sides and cackling non-stop but King Kong (A Comedy) wasn’t the larger than life chuckle-fest I expected. He’s not the first big ape to disappoint me on a night out, but at least this one had bigger hands and feet.

Cast: Benjamin Chamberlain, Rob Crouch, Sam Donnelly, Alix Dunmore and Brendan Murphy Director: Owen Lewis Writer: Daniel Clarkson Theatre: The Vaults, Launcelot Street, SE1 7AD Performance Dates: 22nd June to 27th August 2017

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